There is so much information out there and such a strong narrative around what is delivered to us. Politics and economics cannot help but interfere with the sound waves.
It is important that we debate and interrogate information. Too often in history, we have let our fellow man down by not asking questions. These views are our personal ones and do not represent those of any of the organisations with which we are affiliated.
Can I get reinfected with COVID-19?
Now that we are heading deeper into the wave of infections, new questions are emerging. What are the chances of reinfection? The certain answer is that we do not know… From the emerging data around the world, and what we have learnt from influenza and other coronaviruses, it is thought that reinfection in the same season with SARS-CoV 2 would be extremely UNLIKELY. We know that SARS CoV-1, the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2004, generated antibody levels in infected patients’ serology for a period of between five months to three years². So it would appear that those people who have recovered from COVID-19, can breathe a short lived and tentative sigh of relief! The American CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) currently suggests immunity for 3 months but as antibody testing becomes more readily available, we will be able to assess this with more insight.
What is the difference between a PCR test and an antibody test?
While the current PCR tests look for genetic material of the virus residing in the back of the throat or nasopharynx, antibody tests look for our body’s immune response to the virus. When our body’s are faced with an invasion from a pathogen or infection, we generate tiny proteins that are specifically shaped to combat the infection which has infiltrated our system. These tiny proteins can be imagined as Pac-men! They circulate in our blood stream and munch up the invader. You get two different kinds of these antibodies. The first group are present in the acute phase of illness, very soon after you become ill. The second group, develop with time as your immune system masters fighting the infection. The presence of the second group are the ones that protect you from reinfection, we call these IgG antibodies. Antibody tests will give us more insight into our own immunity in time.
How long is a COVID-19 positive person infectious?
As the pandemic evolves, so too does our understanding of the timelines of infectiousness versus having a positive PCR test. We initially required two separate swabs to be negative to deem someone safe to de-isolate and re-enter society. We now understand that dead RNA can be detected in the nasopharynx for up to six weeks post the acute infection and while the PCR swab assists with the detection of this genetic material, it does not tell us if a person is still infectious. Infectious means that they are carrying an active live virus that can be spread from person to person.
Dead viral particles are inactive and cannot be spread¹. Speaking of which, on the 15th of June 2020 Dr Kerhove, infectious disease epidemiologist of the WHO reported in an interview that spread of the virus by asymptomatic persons is beginning to look unlikely. This is wonderful news, because it means we may only have to physically distance ourselves from unwell persons in the future, rather than physically distancing from everyone!
It doesn’t make the most evolutionary sense that our best defence against this virus is to isolate from one another. We are creatures that thrive on touch and are differentiated from the animal kingdom by our longing and need for community. We look forward to more emerging data to support these new ideas. Nothing has changed yet formally, so please continue to observe physical distancing, but watch this space for more reassuring news.
Could I be immune to COVID-19 without getting it?
Another relevant concept to explore is the idea of cross immunity. This means that being infected with one strain of a virus offers you some protection against the other strains of that virus. Viruses often have many guises and are prone to mutation. This means that they change their shapes to be either more or less harmful to humans. We see this with influenza, a cumulative positive protection is developed after many different exposures to different strains of flu, or different flu vaccines³. The immune system’s intelligence is quite astonishing. It’s a little like recognizing your best friend’s sister in a crowd and knowing that you recognize something about her physiognomy! There are many coronaviruses in circulation and historic exposure to these viruses may offer some protection.
A word on herd immunity… What does this mean?
Herd immunity develops when a significant percentage of a population has been exposed to and has developed antibodies to an infectious disease. The spread is inhibited because the majority of the population are immune and unable to transmit the infection. So if 80% of a population has immunity, only 1 out of every 5 people will be able to transmit the infection. This has a significant impact on the dynamics of spread.
Because such a significant volume of the population is asymptomatic when exposed to SARS-CoV-2, a good argument might be to allow significant spread of the virus across the low risk age group of the population. By protecting those with co-morbidities and keeping the elderly together and safe, we can develop herd immunity among the young, healthy working classes of society. This will, in time, protect the elderly and the vulnerable, and they will be able to emerge back into the world more safely.
The risk of this approach is the possibility of waning immunity and overwhelming the health care system. It also means many hundreds of thousands of deaths. A less aggressive approach that allows a gentle swell of infections without overwhelming the system seems to be the preferred route for most countries. The hardest thing to grapple with is the lives lost. While the pandemic stirs in neighbourhoods you don’t know, these concepts are easy to palette. When the virus takes the life of a loved one, these views take strain. I think it’s important to note here, that people die and people are born. Every life lost makes a hole in someone’s universe, but this is the cycle of life. Have a look at https://www.worldometers.info/, you will be able to put the numbers better into context when you see that on a normal, non-pandemic day in the world, over 150 000 people die and even more people are born.
All the information can be so confusing and there are so many contrary ideas in circulation. This article is a call to interrogate what you are told. Ask questions, find the silver lining, build your armoury with positive ideas and support your beautiful body. The language in the news can be terrifying and it is not always true. President Roosevelt once said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
Fortify your mind with positive information and replenish your microbiome in times where hand washing is a necessity. Remember that 98% of South Africans recover from COVID-19. Get your hands dirty in the garden, use soap and water rather than sanitiser as often as possible and make physical connections with the healthy members of your family unit to enable the sharing of your ecosystem with one another.
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce or eliminate sugar
- Practice daily prayer or mindfulness
- Use soap and water over hand sanitiser as much as possible
- Get your hands dirty in the garden as often as possible
- Spend time outside and in the sunshine
- If you are not eating a fresh diet of colourful produce, supplement your diet with a good multivitamin that includes Zinc, Vit C and D3!
- Make meaningful human connections every day
Love from the entire Health with Heart team!
Health with Heart