Reinfections already make up 15 percent of new Covid-19 cases in Portugal

Reinfections already make up 15 percent of new Covid-19 cases in Portugal

There are still no studies on the risks of consequences in cases of re-infection. But experts explain to CNN Portugal what could be the case for patients who are infected for the second or third time.

At present, about 15% of new Covid-19 cases registered in Portugal are reinfections, ie persons (vaccinated or not) who have been previously infected. And the percentage continues to grow.

Progressive loss of immunity and rapid transmutation of the virus are some of the factors that contribute to re-infection. Re-infections usually follow the appearance of new variants, because immunity from one variant does not automatically provide complete protection to the other variant. It also happens with the flu every year. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, we still do not know how often new variants appear. But we can say that protection against infection has very high values ​​for two to three months, and only then does it begin to decline. A scenario that is further emphasized by the emergence of the Ómicron variant and its sublines.

Faced with a virus that seems to have perfected its ability to invade our immune system, it is important to ask: does re-infection increase the risk of developing the consequences of covid-19?

The answer is still not clear and consensual.

In general, people who have not been vaccinated (or whose vaccination is incomplete) and those who have developed a more severe form in the acute phase of the infection are at higher risk of developing long-term covid. But what happens in case of re-infection?

“What we do know is that, in theory, every time a covid-19 infection occurs, even if it is mild or asymptomatic, consequences can develop, at the lung level,” explains Dr. Carlos Palos, an internal medicine specialist. medicine and director of service at Beatriz Ângelo Hospital. Therefore, “we can extrapolate and say that with more infections, there can be more cumulative effects,” he added, noting, however, that “there are still no studies” that allow us to come to this conclusion.

“It’s still early,” confirms Dr. Manuel Carmo Gomes, professor of epidemiology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Lisbon. “It takes time to study the effects of the long covid.” However, “from the beginning” this specialist would say that the risk is not higher “because you already have some immune protection”, ie the body already has a greater ability to defend itself from infection and prevent more complex consequences.

What is a long covid?

Fever, body aches, fatigue or diarrhea – these are some of the symptoms that covid-19 can cause, which in many patients spread beyond the infection itself. If in some cases it lasts four, six or more weeks, in others it exceeds three months – and this time the data should be a warning sign, doctors guarantee. Having symptoms 90 days after infection is an indication that what is known as long-term covid, a syndrome that results from the disease, may be involved.

“Memory” of the disease

“The risk of re-infection depends on our immune history,” explains Carmo Gomes. “Every case is different.”

What happens when a virus attacks our body is that there is a first line of defense that consists of antibodies. If that fails, after three or four days, a “second-line response” comes into play, consisting of “memory cells” – which keep “virus remnants” away from previous infections. What these cells do is prevent “virus replication” in our body.

For that reason, according to this specialist, people who become infected again will not only react better to the virus, but, as a result, “the risk of long-term covid should not increase”, on the contrary.

The importance of the vaccine

The risk of consequences depends on many variables, warns Dr. Miguel Toscano Rico, a specialist in internal medicine. It depends, for example, on whether a person is vaccinated or not (and whether he has a complete vaccination schedule and supplement), when he received the vaccine and what type of vaccine he had, and the strain he was infected with for the first time and in the future.

“In vaccinated people, the risk of developing the consequences of re-infection is not high,” claims Toscano Rico. An earlier vaccination schedule, especially if you have had different vaccines, is a positive factor. If an additional dose is added to that, “the probability of infection is reduced”.

Vaccines were developed for the “wild-type” covid-19 and none “proved particularly effective for Ómicron”. In any case, he reminds, vaccines do not prevent infection, nor do they largely prevent disease, but they are important for reducing the severity of the disease.

Specificity of Ómicron

Currently, Ómicron is dominant and is responsible for a large number of reinfections registered in Portugal. Ómicron mainly affects the “upper respiratory tract”, it is responsible, for example, for runny nose and sore throat, and less for pulmonary symptoms. And therefore, from the beginning, with less risk of consequences, Toscano Rico believes.

According to several studies, Ómicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in hospitalization risk due to covid-19 compared to the Delta variant.

In any case, emphasizes Carmo Gomes, it is necessary to take into account that even people with mild or asymptomatic disease can develop covid for a long time, so it cannot be definitely said that Ómicron has less risk.

Maintaining attention to the most endangered and not neglecting vaccination

The big problem with this peak of reinfection is, according to Toscano Rico, “decompensation of chronic diseases”.

“Currently, we do not have the weight disease we saw before, which is visible in the number of hospitalizations and deaths. But it is relatively expected that older people and those with other comorbidities, such as chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease, or diabetes, are more vulnerable. decompensated.Therefore, reinfection of covid-19, as well as infection with the common flu, “can become a serious problem.”

All experts contacted by CNN Portugal insist that vaccination remains our best weapon in the fight against covid-19 infection and its possible consequences. “Reinforcement supplements are very important, especially for the most vulnerable people, but not only,” insists Toscano Rico. “Vaccination is the only way we have to fight serious covid-19 disease.”

“We’re still learning with covid-19, but we already know this: vaccination is important,” recalls Carlos Palos.

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