People are less likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 if they already contracted the virus within ten months previously, a new study has found.
The findings from a Vivaldi study, conducted by University College London (UCL) researchers, indicate that the risk of catching COVID-19 is substantially reduced for up to ten months after a prior infection. To conduct the study, researchers looked at rates of COVID-19 infections between October and February among more than 2,000 care home residents and staff, comparing those who had evidence of a previous infection up to ten months earlier, as determined by antibody testing, with those who had not been previously infected.
The study has been published in Lancet Healthy Longevity.
The research revealed that residents with a previous infection were 85% less likely to be infected during this four-month period than residents who had never been infected, while staff with a previous infection were 60% less likely than staff who had not had the infection before.
The results, researchers said, demonstrated strong protection in both groups. However, they noted that the two percentages may not be directly comparable, as staff may have accessed testing outside the care home, leading to positive tests not being included in the study. In addition, residents who tested positive for antibodies likely represented a particularly robust group, having survived the first wave of the pandemic.
Lead author Dr Maria Krutikov, from UCL Institute of Health Informatics, said: “It’s really good news that natural infection protects against reinfection in this time period. The risk of being infected twice appears to be very low.
“The fact that prior COVID-19 infection gives a high level of protection to care home residents is also reassuring, given past concerns that these individuals might have less robust immune responses associated with increasing age. These findings are particularly important as this vulnerable group has not been the focus of much research.”
Reinfection risk in care homes
For the study, 682 residents and 1,429 staff in 100 care homes in England underwent antibody blood tests in June and July last year following the first wave of COVID-19. About a third tested positive for antibodies, suggesting they had previously been infected.
The results of participants’ PCR tests were then analysed, starting approximately 90 days after the blood samples were taken to ensure the tests did not pick up the initial infection. PCR tests were taken once a week for staff, and once a month for residents, with further testing in the event of an outbreak. Positive test results were only included if they were more than 90 days apart, to ensure that the same infection was not included more than once.
The number of staff and residents who were reinfected between October and February was very small. Based on the antibody test results, out of the 634 people who had been previously infected, reinfections occurred in only four residents and ten members of staff. Among the 1,477 participants who had never been infected, positive PCR tests occurred in 93 residents and 111 staff.
The study excluded the impact of vaccination by removing participants from the analysis 12 days following their first vaccination dose. The authors are also conducting a separate Vivaldi study looking into vaccine effectiveness.
Senior author Dr Laura Shallcross, from UCL Institute of Health Informatics, said: “This was a unique opportunity to look at the protective effect of natural infection in this cohort ahead of the roll-out of vaccination.
“An important next step is to investigate the duration of immunity following natural infection and vaccination and to assess whether this protective effect is maintained against current and emerging variants.”