Durban woman contracts Covid-19 twice within three months, NICD keeps watch on patient's case

A health worker takes samples from a man to test him for Covid-19 coronavirus.
A health worker takes samples from a man to test him for Covid-19 coronavirus.
Pedro Pardo, AFP
  • In what could be a first for the country, a Durban doctor says one of his patients has contracted Covid-19 twice within three months.
  • The patient had initially presented with flu-like symptoms after travelling in another African country and tested positive for the virus. Then, three months later, the patient tested positive again, the doctor says.
  • The NICD is monitoring the patient's case.

A Durban doctor has reported having a Covid-19 patient who has been re-infected three months after her initial infection.

Dr Yuvan Maharaj, who runs a practice in Prospection, said the patient had initially received her positive results on 9 March, a negative test two weeks later, and then a positive result on 14 July.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is now monitoring this patient's case. 

"The patient had called me in March suspecting she had picked up the virus as she had returned from a north African country and had started to exhibit flu-like symptoms.

"I advised her to have a test done. Two days later, her results came back and she was positive. Fortunately, she was able to self-isolate and I put her on supplements to boost her immunity and treat her symptomatically. After 14 days, she was well and I asked her to go for another test, which came back negative," said Maharaj.

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He said she then returned to work until she called him on 10 July saying some of her colleagues had tested positive and she was exhibiting symptoms again. "So I advised her to test again and on 14 July, I got her positive results. This is probably one of the first cases of re-infections in the country. I did not even imagine that we could have this scenario in South Africa and it worried me a bit so I contacted the NICD who are now also involved in monitoring this case," said Maharaj.

Surprised 

He said while he had heard of cases in re-infection in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged, he was surprised it was showing locally "so quickly".

Maharaj said from his discussions with other medical experts, he wants people to remain calm as they should be prepared and aware that re-infection was possible.

"We need to have an understanding of this from a medical perspective. Basically Covid-19 is like every other germ out there. It has a protein on its surface called an antigen. When you are exposed to it, your body develops an antibody to fight antigens and develops a memory for it.

"So, in future if you get exposed to the antigen again, your immune system activates and produces antibodies to fight that particular antigen and the virus is destroyed before it goes any further.

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"Those re-infected in China are mostly asymptomatic but they are carriers and transmitting to others. It is unchartered territory and we don’t know what is going to happen here," said Maharaj.

Professor Lynn Morris, the interim executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said unfortunately there was insufficient information to "inform this critical question".

"Immunity relies on the ability of the human body to develop specific antiviral responses‚ including neutralising antibodies. Such antibodies generally develop following viral infection [and vaccination] and provide protection from reinfection," said Morris.

She said since the virus was relatively new, there has not be enough time and opportunity to study this as yet. "This is important to understand because Covid-19 is likely to become endemic and occur annually‚ like seasonal influenza," she said.

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