If I already had COVID-19, can I get it again?
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Anne from Cleveland asked, “My husband just recovered from COVID. I tested positive today. Am I contagious to him? I did not test positive until he was 14 days out. We don’t know which variant he had. We are both vaccinated and boosted.”
There is a slight chance people who recently had COVID-19 could get it again if exposed, said Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic.
The omicron variant, the dominant coronavirus strain circulating in the Cleveland area right now, can evade immunity a person may have built up from previous infections, he said.
However, reinfections will likely be mild or even asymptomatic for most people, Khabbaza said.
“If you had a very recent delta infection in the last three months, even if you did have an omicron reinfection, it is very unlikely that you would get … severe enough of an illness to really run into problems, just from having that recent immunity,” Khabbaza said.
People will likely be well-protected against reinfection for at least a few months, he added, but there is not enough research yet to conclude this.
“Anecdotally, based on my experience taking care of probably hundreds of patients in the past couple of weeks with COVID, I have yet to see somebody who’s had a recent delta infection – recent meaning a month or two ago – now test positive again with COVID,” he said. “It seems to not be very common as of right now.”
Another listener asked, "Are people who have already contracted COVID more susceptible to getting sick from new variants?"
It depends on the variant, Khabbaza said. So far, it seems people who previously had COVID-19 and later contracted omicron largely had mild cases, whereas the delta variant seemed to cause more severe illness even in people who had been infected before, he said.
The delta variant drove most COVID-19 infections in the U.S. starting in late summer and throughout the fall, he added. The omicron variant began showing up in Cleveland Clinic lab samples in early December and quickly became the predominant strain in Northeast Ohio.
Most COVID-19 infections in the Cleveland area starting in late December are likely due to the omicron variant, Khabbaza said.
More research is needed to determine how long immunity will last from an omicron infection, he added.
“You’re in really good shape for at least a couple months … especially young, healthy, normal immune systems,” he said. “Still make sure to stay on top of your [booster] shots and not let it get too late. You just don’t want to be left with too little immunity, especially with too many unknowns, I guess, in the future about what the next variants might hold.”
If you recently had COVID-19 and get exposed again, Khabbaza recommends watching for symptoms and staying home if you start to feel sick.