Welcome to COVID Advice, TIME’s consulting column. We’re trying to make living through the pandemic a little easier, with expert-backed answers to your toughest coronavirus dilemmas. While we cannot and do not offer medical advice – those questions should be addressed to your doctor – we hope this column helps you through this stressful and confusing time. Have a question? Write to us at email@example.com.
Today, AB asked:
“I am fully vaccinated, healthy and have recently recovered from a breakthrough infection. Can I walk normally now? ”
There are certain pathogens that the human immune system learns to suppress forever after a single encounter. But others, like the coronavirus that causes the common cold, can make a person sick year after year.
Unfortunately, the virus that causes COVID-19, like other coronaviruses, It is possible to infect the same person more than once. The body becomes better at fighting off each exposure or dose of vaccine, which means future brushes with the virus will be milder, but there doesn’t seem to be a time when the risk of infection is complete. disappear.
Rachel Presti, an infectious disease researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. This is especially true if you are elderly, have underlying medical conditions or immunodeficiency.
Even with those warnings, there is a lot of good news for the well-immunized and well-fortified people who have recovered from the recent COVID-19 infection. People in that group have multiple layers of protection against viruses. And, assuming you’re generally healthy, experts say that leaves you with a grace period of at least three to six months, during which you’re unlikely to get sick again.
According to the latest information federal analysis, which includes data from the fall of 2021, a fully vaccinated and boosted person in the US is 10 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 — and 20 times less likely to die from it — compared with unvaccinated adults. More recently data collected during the Omicron surge in the UK confirm that fully vaccinated and boosted individuals are significantly less likely to become infected than unvaccinated individuals. Still, Breakthrough infection occurs. Among augmented adults who experience them, cases tend to be mild.
You should never try to catch COVID-19, but there is a silver lining to get it. The infection induces an immune response that creates an additional layer of safety.
So if you had a breakout infection, you could have come out of the (hopefully mild) experience with an even stronger and stronger immune profile than it was before you got sick, says Presti. .
A little research Fully immunized healthcare workers who developed a sudden infection before Omicron surgery found that they experienced a “significant” spike in antibody levels after the illness, despite the illness. though most are mild. Other research have found that people recovering from an Omicron infection acquire immunity against both Omicron and Delta variants. And a recent one report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the case rate in the Delta wave – before Omicron and the spreading boosters – in people who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 compared with those who were recently vaccinated.
So why get vaccinated, if immunity derived from infection provides strong protection? For one thing, vaccination is a much safer way to gain immunity. Post-infectious immunity is also more difficult to predict than vaccine-derived protection, Presti said. Some people make a lot of antibodies after an infection while others have very little left and the average person will not know how many antibodies they have.
Immunity derived from infection also declines over time, so you can’t count on it forever. A study in December 2021 Suggested reinfection can occur anywhere from three months to many years after becoming ill with COVID-19, with variations from person to person depending on age, health status, and many other factors. other factor.
Based on what researchers know about how the immune system responds to this and other coronaviruses, Virk says a fully vaccinated, health-boosted person recovering from COVID-19 can feel quite safe in the months following a breakthrough infection. “We don’t know” exactly how long the protection lasts, Virk said. “But we think you’ll be protected for at least three to six months after infection.”
During this time, when your immunity is strongest and you are unlikely to get sick, you can also be fairly confident that you are not spreading the virus to anyone else. That makes activities like eating indoors and visiting loved ones safer, if not 100% risk-free. “If someone has just used Omicron after they have been enhanced, maybe [they can be] a little more cavalier about wearing masks and social distancing,” says Virk.
But you shouldn’t ignore COVID-19 entirely. While you may be well protected — for a few months at least — others in your community are more vulnerable, which makes it important to slow the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. the better. Always be smart to limit contact with sick people, stay home if you develop respiratory symptoms and track hospitalization trends in your area. If the health system struggles, authorities may ask people to temporarily continue some precautions, such as wearing masks indoors, to avoid collapse.
There is also no prediction if or when there will be another new variant that challenges your hard-won immunity. And researchers are still learning about long-term complications from the virus that can affect both unvaccinated and vaccinated people, like Long COVID.
Still, many Americans are more protected than they were in 2020 or even last year, thanks to vaccines and previous exposures to the virus. If you’re generally healthy, fully vaccinated and healthy, and have recently recovered from a breakthrough infection, you’re as safe as possible from COVID-19 right now.
“For many people, the risk is the same as the risk of catching a mild cold or flu,” says Presti. “We used to live with that.” And before it’s too long, we’ll be again.