Forget what you thought you knew about catching COVID-19 more than once. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, keeps evolving – and so has information about your risk of being reinfected.
“Two years ago, we thought if you had COVID once that you would never get it again,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But especially with the variants that have become dominant in the U.S. this summer, that thinking no longer holds.
BA.5’s ability to evade
When it emerged last November, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 showed an ability to reinfect people who’d had earlier versions of the virus. This summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are sweeping the U.S., with BA.5 accounting for the majority of COVID cases. Both appear to be even more adept than other Omicron subvariants at evading the body’s defenses against infection.
Even having had an earlier version of Omicron does not seem to protect against symptomatic infection from the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, Malani shares. The subvariants also can infect vaccinated people.
“I have friends who have had COVID three times,” says Malani, who has co-written an ongoing series of updates about the virus for JAMA. “One of my kids had it twice.” And Malani herself recently tested positive for the first time, despite being up-to-date on her vaccinations.
The good news is that despite spreading more easily, the subvariants do not appear to cause more severe disease. And vaccination still protects against severe illness, especially hospitalizations and death.
Should you step up your precautions?
Although the subvariants don’t cause severe disease, if you are a heart or stroke patient, it is a good idea to step up your precautions.
Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says it’s hard to know exactly how a pandemic is unfolding in real-time, and more research is needed on COVID-19 and the heart to provide definitive answers about the risks.
But conditions such as stroke, heart failure and coronary artery disease are among those that can lead to severe illness from COVID-19, the CDC says. And in the past month, Bhatt has seen “a number of patients” with severe