December 3, 2023

The more times you catch COVID, the more likely you are to get sick with each infection again. That’s the troubling conclusion of a new study based on data from the US Veterans Administration.

Scientists emphasized that they need more data before they can determine whether, and why, COVID might get worse the second, third or fourth time. But with more infections as the pandemic approaches its fourth year, the study points to some potential long-term risks.

To get acquainted with the health effect of infection again, repeat-infection up reTreating the infection Three researchers — Ziad Al-Aly of Washington University School of Medicine as well as Benjamin Boye and Yan Ze, both of St. Louis Health Care System — examined the health records of 5.7 million US veterans.

About 260,000 have been infected with COVID only once, and 40,000 have been infected at least once again. The control group included 5.4 million people who had never had COVID. Al Ali, Boi, and Sheh tracked health outcomes over a six-month period and came up with an amazing result. “We showed that compared to people with a first infection, reinfection contributes to additional risks,” they wrote in. their studieswhich has not yet been peer-reviewed but is under consideration for publication in temper nature.

Every time you catch COVID, there’s a chance you’ll get really sick with somethingIt’s likely related to COVID — it appears to be on the rise, Al-Aly, Bowe and Xie have found. Risks of cardiovascular disorders, blood clotting problems, diabetes, fatigue, digestive and kidney disorders, mental health problems, musculoskeletal disorders, and neurological damage increase as the infection returns – this is despite the antibodies that should result from repeated infections.

All cases are directly related to COVID or have been shown to get worse with COVID. “The set of findings show that reinfection adds a non-trivial risk,” the researchers cautioned.

This risk could become a bigger deal as more people become infected. Globally, the death rate from COVID is declining, thanks in large part to growing population-level immunity to previous infections and vaccinations.

But at the same time, cases of non-fatal infections are piling up. About half a billion people worldwide have been infected with COVID more than once, according to the Al-Aly, Bowe, and Xie study, citing data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Many other infections are likely, including “super” infections in whole vaccines, where new variants and sub-variants of COVID evolve to partially avoid antibodies.

The exact increase in your risk of developing again depends on the particular disorder involved – and whether or not you’ve had the vaccination and the booster. In general, however, the potential for heart problems, clotting, fatigue, and lung damage nearly doubles each time you get COVID, Al-Aly, Bowe, and Xie.

Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Health Institute, provided an important caveat: time. “In general, one would expect the coronavirus to cause more damage with a longer infection,” he told The Daily Beast. A short-lived COVID infection followed by another short case of COVID should be less harmful than, for example, long-running sequential illnesses.

The longer the infection lasts, the greater the stress on your organs. “These are two strikes, not one,” Miqdad said.

But the deteriorating outcome from reinfection is likely to have little or no relationship to the cumulative stress of prolonged sequential disease. According to Peter Hotez, an expert in vaccine development at Baylor College, the heightened risk could result from a poorly understood phenomenon called “immunity boosting.”

A virus undergoes immune boosting when a person’s immune system, after initial exposure to a pathogen, backfires during infection again. A person with an immune booster in relation to a particular disease is likely to become sicker and sicker each time they are exposed.

The immunological improvement could explain Al-Aly, Bow, and Xie’s observation of an increased risk of re-infection with COVID. “if Hotez stressed that the observation is correct. But the observation may be inaccurate. Hotez said he was “not convinced that the injury again is in fact more severe.”

He’s also somewhat skeptical, Anthony Alberg, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, told The Daily Beast. It’s really hard to predict how much risk you may be accumulating with each case of COVID. And the study of Al-Ali, Bo and Shih is too fast to settle the uncertainty entirely on its own.

Alberg explained that the main problem is related to a classic logical dilemma: causation versus correlation. He noted that just because veterans get sick with every COVID infection doesn’t necessarily mean that COVID is definitely to blame. Perhaps the vets in the study who had COVID more than once tended to belong to groups with worse overall health outcomes whether or not they had COVID two or three times.

Compared to veterans who were once infected with SARS-CoV-2, those who were infected two or more times were more likely to get older. [or] “Blacks, who are in long-term care, are immunocompromised, suffer from anxiety, depression and dementia and have cerebrovascular disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung disease,” Alberg said.

In other words, COVID may be off topic. It’s possible that the deteriorating results in the Al-Ali, Bo and Shih study were due to the fact that the infected patients “were, on average, older and had significantly worse health than those with a single infection,” Alberg said. injured more than once.

Resolving causation and correlation in a study of this scale can be difficult. “More evidence [is] necessary about it before making final conclusions,” Alberg said.

In the meantime, it should be easy for us to mitigate potential risks. Anyone who gets COVID a second time should not hesitate to take a course of paxlovid or some other antiviral drug approved for the disease. “We must continue to focus on making sure people are aware of the benefits of early treatment,” Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease expert at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, told The Daily Beast.

Better yet, we can focus on developing “strategies to prevent reinfection,” Al-Ali, Bo and Shih write.

The highest priority should, of course, be to vaccinate the unvaccinated. Even the best COVID vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective at preventing infection or reinfection — and they’re getting somewhat worse as SARS-CoV-2 develops for greater immune escape.

But even with the smartest viral mutations, the punches are still pretty effective. You can’t get sick and get sick with infection again…if you didn’t get infected in the first place.

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