A lot continues to remain unknown about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With more than 4 million positive cases in the United States and vaccines for treatment in various stages of development and testing, many are curious to know if it’s possible to contract the novel virus more than once.
When your body is attacked by other viruses or pathogens (such as chickenpox), antibodies are produced that help ward off any future reinfection. But researchers are still figuring out if that holds true for COVID-19.
While there have been reports of people claiming to have been reinfected with COVID-19, health experts believe there is no evidence to scientifically back those accounts.
“I haven’t heard of a case where it’s been truly unambiguously demonstrated,” Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told the New York Times.
Althought it may be possible for the same person to get infected again with coronavirus, it is unlikely it would happen in a short period time as some of the reports have claimed. "What’s more likely is that some people have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after their initial exposure," the publication noted.
John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, believes it is "likely, but not yet established" that antibodies could fight off contracting coronavirus a second time.
"There is every reason to think the antibodies we produce against COVID will protect us, based on our experience with other coronaviruses and most, but not all, other infectious diseases," Swartzberg told Business Insider.
Other health experts concur that the antibodies could offer immunity, but stress that it’s unclear for how long.
"That's a good sign that we likely have at least temporary immunity after infection," Frances Lund, chair of the microbiology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the outlet. "What we don't know yet is how long that immunity will last, the quality of that immunity, and whether all individuals will generate a long-lasting high immune response."
Should the immunity not be permanent, based on similar illnesses, there are signs that a reinfection of coronavirus would be less severe the second time around.
"I presume that once you have [COVID-19], if you get it again, it will be a milder course,” said Tim Schacker, director of the University of Minnesota's HIV medicine program.
There had been some reports of people in South Korea and Japan contracting COVID-19 more than once, but it’s unclear whether they were reinfected or just hadn’t fully cleared the virus after being released from quarantine.
“It was pretty solid epidemiological and virological evidence that reinfection was not happening, at least in those people,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, told the New York Times.
“I would say reinfection is possible, though not likely, and I’d think it would be rare,” Rasmussen added. “But even rare occurrences might seem alarmingly frequent when a huge number of people have been infected.”
Back in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is part of the White House coronavirus task force, addressed the subject of reinfection by saying he believed someone infected could have immunity, at least until a second wave of the virus erupted.
"If this virus acts like every virus we know, once you get infected, you get better, clear the virus, and then you will have immunity that will protect you against reinfection," Fauci said during an appearance on “The Daily Show.” "So it's never 100 percent, but I'd be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against re-infection."
Unfortunately, getting a definitive answer on reinfection and immunity will still require more research and time.