Not even six months after getting over the virus, at the end of August, he recognised again some of the symptoms that we have come to associate with covid-19. He is a physician at Hospital de Palamós, but at the time he was on holiday and, in fact, it began like an ordinary cold. However, his condition took a turn for the worse: a cough, a tight chest and shortness of breath. Eventually he tested positive for coronavirus. How could that be, if he had already caught the virus when the pandemic was raging in Catalonia? That is the question that puzzles the carers that he has been in contact with. Now he is in the ICU of Can Ruti’s Hospital, near Barcelona. Dr Roca Toda, who leads the internal medicine unit in Palamós, offers an optimistic prognosis: “We think he will go on to make a full recovery”. Dr Bonaventura Clotet’s medical team are following up on this case, one of the first four instances of reinfection recorded in Catalonia. Speaking to RAC1 radio, Dr Clotet confirmed that there is at least another three cases of reinfection in Catalonia. As Dr Clotet made the announcement, he also took the opportunity to stress that having had the illness is no guarantee that one will not become ill again, which —in some cases, like the Palamós doctor— can lead to major complications. Dr Clotet warns that “while we believe most [reinfection] cases will be mild, there is evidence that some won’t” and he insisted that we must remain more vigilant than ever, now that the first reinfection cases have been reported in Catalonia: “We must continue to protect ourselves, even if we’ve already had covid-19”.
So far reinfection had only been reported in China, plus there have been a handful of cases in other countries, such as Belgium and the US. Dr Clotet stated that the number of reinfected patients in Catalonia could rise in the coming days, once other potential cases which they are looking into are confirmed.
Why some are vulnerable to reinfection while others aren’t
The medical team that is following up on the four confirmed cases in Catalonia are considering two hypotheses to explain why some patients are vulnerable to reinfection, but others aren’t. The first explanation could be that reinfected patients never developed enough antibodies when they became ill the first time around. The second hypothesis is that antibodies have a shorter lifespan for certain individuals. In any case, neither explanation has been ruled out yet and the team’s research efforts should eventually prove which is the correct answer.
Furthermore, Dr Clotet explained that we also need to account for the “mechanisms” which make some reinfection cases “much more serious” than with the original infection. “It might have something to do with sustained re-exposure, but we must also look into other [possible contributing] factors”, he said, referring to the medical record of the Palamós physician. On this point, Dr Clotet recalled how the Wuhan doctor who first sounded the alarm about the epidemic died some weeks later, after being “overexposed” to the virus.