Researchers in Hong Kong have reportedly identified the first person on record to contract COVID-19 twice. The man was studied at the University of Hong Kong, and his condition may have huge implications about how the human body builds immunity to the novel coronavirus, according to a report by NBC News. At the same time, he may play a pivotal role in the development of a vaccine.
The Hong Kong man who apparently contracted COVID-19 twice has not been publicly identified, although the research data gathered on him is not being studied around the world. According to Yale University professor Akiko Iwasaki, "this is no cause for alarm," as the patient did not suffer the debilitating sickness of COVID-19 on his second round. "Second infection was asymptomatic," she tweeted. "While immunity was not enough to block re-infection, it protected the person from disease."
1) Second infection was asymptomatic. While immunity was not enough to block reinfection, it protected the person from disease. (2/n) pic.twitter.com/C65F8ff5UN— Prof. Akiko Iwasaki (@VirusesImmunity) August 24, 2020
The patient in this case is a 33-year-old man who was first diagnosed with COVID-19 in March. At the time, he showed relatively mild symptoms, and required hospitalization on March 29. He was discharged on April 14.
This second infection came just this month, after the man returned to Hong Kong from a trip to Spain — with a connecting flight in the United Kingdom. He tested positive again on Aug. 15, and was hospitalized despite the fact that he was asymptomatic.
The second infection that the man picked up is reportedly a slightly different strain of COVID-19 from the first one. The virus has undergone numerous mutations as it has spread across the world, which is not a surprise to researchers. U.K. professor Brendan Wren said that this is likely a "rare example," and predicts that re-infections will not be common as this pandemic goes on.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was limited research available on this family of coronaviruses, but scientists predicted that survivors would not retain immunity for very long. They produced antibodies while recovering from the virus, which would theoretically protect them from re-infection, although research so far has not been conclusive.
The news of this first recorded re-infection comes one day after President Donald Trump issued emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma treatments for COVID-19 — a method of isolating antibodies from survivors' blood to treat patients. This authorization was controversial among scientists due to the lack of research. Now, the Hong Kong case proves how inconclusive it must be.