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COVID-19 re-infection: Can you get coronavirus more than once? What we know so far


You do not know if another occurrence of symptoms is the result of a new infection or an old one, unless you have been tested several times.

Amanda Capritto / CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Since the beginning of coronavirus pandemic experts have struggled with the question of whether a patient recovering from COVID-19 can get the disease again. Although coronavirus infections are rare, there are several documented cases where it appears to have occurred. Researchers are particularly interested in these cases because they could teach us a lot about how coronavirus makes people sick, as well as how vaccines may possibly help end the pandemic.

There are other considerations as well. For example, if you have recovered from COVID-19, do you still have to wear a mask when going out in public? Should you get a vaccine when one becomes available, or do you not need one now?

Like many questions about coronavirus, there is still a lot we do not know. Therefore, experts almost always recommend an abundance of caution when making decisions that may affect your health or the well-being of others.

Here we go through what doctors know and just as importantly what they do not know about COVID-19 reinfection, including what to take care of and steps you can take to help protect yourself. This article is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice. If you think you may have COVID-19, here you will find a test site nearby.


Patients are checked in for their doctor appointment outside the facility and are not allowed indoors until they receive a text stating that the doctor is ready to see them. Free N95 masks were given to those who were about to enter.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Am I getting re-infected with COVID-19 something to worry about?

In most confirmed cases of reinfection, the patient first tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, then at some point tested negative before being tested positive for the second time. Although several dozen cases have been reported, they represent a very small percentage of the over 45 million total confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In other words, while re-infection can occur under very limited circumstances, it is not a common occurrence. “Real-world experience suggests that re-infections are very rare, but it would be interesting to see if there is a seasonality to the virus with declining immunity next year,” said Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, a Yale Medicine Specialist in Infectious Diseases, to Heathline.

Translation: This is really not something you need to worry about right now.

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Recovery from COVID-19 may require bed rest.

Angela Lang / CNET

How do I know if I have been infected again or if COVID just never disappeared?

Some people who feel sick weeks or even months after testing positive for COVID-19 may still experience symptoms as a result of the original infection, also called “long-term sufferers”.

In other cases, doctors have run genetic analyzes of samples of the virus taken from patients during the first infection and then again during the second. In cases where these samples showed genetically significant differences, researchers have concluded that they were separate, unrelated infections.

Unless you get extensive testing, you probably do not know for sure whether a recurrence of COVID-19 is a bona fide reinfection or an example of a long-distance coronavirus infection.


In the waiting room of the doctor’s office, the signs on each chair ask patients to refrain from sitting.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Are you better or worse the second time you get COVID-19?

Again, use COVID test results to determine if your symptoms are related to your original infection or if they are new.

With most viruses, another infection is usually milder than the first because the body has built up antibodies against it. However, this is not always the case and there is still much that SARS-CoV-2 doctors continue to reveal. With some viruses already having antibodies to the virus can actually make another infection worse. Dengue fever and Zika virus are well-known examples.

For most patients who have had COVID-19 more than once, the symptoms have typically been mild or absent altogether with another battle with the virus. However, some patients’ second illness has actually been worse compared to their first infection. It is too early to know for sure which reaction is more typical, plus there are too few cases to study.


It is difficult to say whether COVID-19 symptoms such as dry cough and loss of taste and smell get worse or better with another infection.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Am I immune to COVID-19 if I’ve already had it once?

The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues and cells that work together to protect the body against disease. It does not have an on / off switch. Rather, there are varying degrees of immunity to a particular pathogen or germ.

Doctors and researchers have so far avoided making strong claims about lasting immunity to COVID-19. According to epidemiologists, reinfection is unlikely in the first three months after testing for the virus.

How does COVID-19 reinfection affect a potential vaccine?

We do not really know before one or more vaccines are approved and widely distributed, but doctors are hopeful that coronavirus vaccines give people at least enough immunity to be able to resume normal life once enough people have been vaccinated. This is because COVID-19 patients in the vast majority of cases so far do not appear to get the virus a second time, giving researchers hope that a vaccine will work.

In fact, cases of coronavirus reinfection can help researchers better understand how to best distribute and administer a vaccine. For example, it may be necessary to give people regular booster shots, which strengthen immunity until the virus is completely contained.


Signage seen at Whole Foods in Asheville, North Carolina explains that they now require masks to be worn inside and they will give them one if needed.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Do I still have to wear a mask or social cover if I have had COVID-19?

Every public health organization, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, recommends the same set of safety measures for everyone, whether or not they have had COVID-19 in the past. (The only exceptions are from cases of active infections that require even stricter protocols.) This means masks, social distance, hand washing, regular surface cleaning – everything experts have asked us to do since the beginning of the pandemic.

For specific details about it and more, Here’s how to clean your home and your car, where to buy the most popular face masks and how to more safely enjoy a restaurant meal during the pandemic.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended for health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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