Can you catch coronavirus twice?
Updated 16th August 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the Government website for more up to date information.
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus which is spread in droplets and particles from the nose and mouth of an infected person. Because it’s a new disease we’re still learning how it works, and how it affects the body. However, we do know is that it’s possible to catch COVID-19 twice.
The COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, and since then there have been a number of confirmed cases where people have been infected more than once. The good news is, cases of reinfection are still considered rare, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Going by the data we currently have, the chances of catching COVID-19 twice are very low.
Even though it’s uncommon to catch COVID-19 twice, it’s still important to follow the rules and take the recommended precautions – whether or not you’ve already had the virus. This means minimising the number of social contacts, wearing a mask, and washing your hands regularly.
What counts as COVID-19 reinfection?
According to the CDC, reinfection describes a situation where a person was infected with the virus, recovered, and then became infected again later on. Cases of reinfection with COVID-19 are expected, because the same thing can happen with similar viruses.
Currently, we don’t know enough about COVID-19, which is why scientists and doctors need to gather data on how and when reinfection occurs.
Reinfection is different to being ill for a long time – if you have ongoing symptoms, this is known as long COVID. However, it could be that some cases of reinfection are actually reactivation. This is where the virus has laid dormant in your system but becomes active again, causing another bout of symptoms.
How many cases of reinfection have there been?
The first confirmed case of reinfection came in August 2020, when a 33-year-old man tested positive for the second time, after first getting a positive test in March.
There have been 31 confirmed cases of reinfection around the world, however there could be many more that haven’t been officially reported or confirmed.
Does catching the virus give me immunity?
Yes, to a certain extent. When your body is infected with any virus, your immune system responds by creating antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies stay in your system, and can fight off the infection if it enters your body a second time.
For some people this isn’t possible, because they have a disease or are receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system.
How long does COVID-19 immunity last?
It’s still not clear how long immunity lasts after you’ve had the virus.
According to one study reported in the BMJ, immunity might last for around six months. According to a different study reported by Public Health England, immunity might last for around five months. The CDC, meanwhile, has stated that catching the virus again within 90 days after your first infection is uncommon.
It’s thought that mild infection may result in a shorter period of immunity. The good news is, even if you do catch COVID-19 for a second time, it’s likely that the second infection will cause less severe symptoms.
What should I do if I get COVID-19 symptoms again?
The NHS guidance for reinfection is the same for a primary infection. If you start experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you should self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible.
The self-isolating guidance varies depending on your age, vaccination status and where you live. In England please follow the below advice:
- If you’re displaying symptoms you should complete a PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate until the test comes back.
- If your result is negative, you don’t need to self-isolate
- If the test is positive or unclear you should self-isolate for 10 days from the day of onset of the symptoms
- If you don’t have symptoms and test positive, you should continue to self-isolate for 10 days
- If you live with (or are in a support bubble with) someone who has tested positive or had an unclear result you should self-isolate unless you are fully vaccinated (having received the second vaccine dose at least 14 days previously), or under the age of 18 years and 6 months old
The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Fever – you have a high temperature
- New, continuous cough – you’re coughing for long periods, or having three or more episodes of coughing in the space of a day
- Change to taste and smell – food might taste or smell different, or you might lose your taste and smell altogether