Belgian COVID-19 patient re-infected only three months after initial infection

A Belgian patient had COVID-19 twice. She was reinfected 93 days after the first infection and experienced symptoms in both occasions. The virus isolates from her nasal swab test were analysed at KU Leuven.


© Shutterstock | Eleven mutations were detected across the genomes of the two virus isolates.

In March 2020, a 51-year-old patient presented to her general physician with a fever, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle pain and a sudden loss of smell and taste. In a nasopharyngeal swab, SARS-CoV-2 was detected by a PCR test. The patient was placed in home quarantine for 2 weeks, and remained ill for another 3 weeks before returning back to work. In June 2020, the same symptoms reappeared, and a second nasopharyngeal swab was positive for SARS-CoV-2. The second COVID-19 episode was less intense and only lasted one week. In July 2020, SARS-Cov-2 antibodies were present in high concentrations. A control nasopharyngeal swab taken in August 2020 was PCR-negative for SARS-CoV-2.

Different lineages

On both occasions, the SARS-CoV-2 positive nasopharyngeal samples were sequenced in the Belgian coronavirus reference laboratory at KU Leuven to determine the full-length virus genomes. Eleven mutations were detected across the genomes of the two virus isolates. Molecular analysis clustered the two virus isolates in different SARS-CoV-2 lineages.

“The genetic differences and the time lag between the two infections suggest a re-infection rather than persisting viral shedding,” says professor Piet Maes.

Scientists in Hong-Kong recently described a patient that developed a second episode of COVID-19 after 142 days, but that second episode was asymptomatic. The Belgian patient developed a symptomatic COVID-19 episode only 93 days after the first infection.

Vaccination

“The fact that symptomatic reinfection can already occur 93 days after the first infection suggests that people who have recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection are not necessarily immune to or protected against re-infection with this coronavirus,” says professor Marc Van Ranst (KU Leuven). “The possibility of re-infection may signal that people who have lived through a SARS-CoV-2 infection should nonetheless get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available”.

The team of professor Van Ranst is currently working on a manuscript presenting their data. This paper will be uploaded on a preprint server ahead of publication and shared on this page as soon as it is available.

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