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Coronavirus Questions Answered: If You Get Over It, Are You Immune?

Doctors are unsure of a lot of the details surrounding coronavirus, but they do agree that washing your hands always helps prevent germs. [Margoe Edwards /Shutterstock]
Doctors are unsure of a lot of the details surrounding coronavirus, but they do agree that washing your hands always helps prevent germs. [Margoe Edwards /Shutterstock]

Updated on May 5, 2020 at 4:30 p.m.

What are your questions about the coronavirus?

ideastream is answering as many questions as possible, with help from local experts in a range of fields. You can  send us your questions with our online form, through our  social media  pages and  group or call us at 216-916-6476. We'll  keep the answers coming on our website and on the air.

Patrick asks via email: “If you get over it would you then have some immunity?”

We’ve heard similar questions from many listeners, and while experts aren’t entirely sure because the virus is a new strain, infectious disease specialist Dr. Keith Armitage of University Hospitals says it might offer partial immunity.

“I’m very confident when I say if you’ve had it once, you have at least partial immunity, so you’re not at risk for having a bad case where you’d require medical care,” Armitage said.

That means you might catch it again, but Armitage thinks a person wouldn’t become severely ill if they did become reinfected.

And it’s important to remember that none of us have natural immunity yet to COVID-19, since it is a new strain of coronavirus thought to have originated from bats, according to Armitage. This is why the virus is so easily spread.

Carol from Columbus asks: “Why are people who have had COVID-19 not immune to reinfection? What is the science behind immunity, and how does it relate to a path for vaccinations?”

University Hospitals’ Dr. Amy Edwards says it’s assumed—but they don’t yet know—that patients have a partial immunity if they recover from COVID-19. That means they may get the virus again, but it could be mild, or they may have full immunity for at least a period of time, but it’s too early to say for sure.

Edwards explained immunity from an infection and immunity from a vaccine are slightly different but lead to similar outcomes, because your body creates antibodies or a similar protein to eliminate infectious agents.

She said having antibodies does not mean permanent immunity, and this isn’t unique to this strain of coronavirus. She said antibodies tend to wane after a year or two, and there are many infections you can catch over and over. Those types of infections are generally not good vaccine candidates because you have to keep vaccinating over and over.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158