The SIREN study examined the impact of infection on more than 20,000 healthcare volunteers in the UK. A preliminary study found only 44 cases out of 6,614.
Two groups of individuals, one with no evidence of previous infection and one with evidence of previous infection, were followed for up to six months.
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, concluded that it reduced the likelihood of past reinfection with the virus by 83% for at least five months.
The cohort was routinely tested for Covid-19.
About 6,000 health workers are people who have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection…. and about 14,000 health workers are people who have no evidence of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, said Tom Wingfield, clinical lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Science Media Centre, UK.
The results show that the rate of new infections in the positive cohort was 83% lower than in the negative cohort during the follow-up period.
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But researchers have warned that the protection is not complete and it is not known how long the immunity will last. It is also possible that those who have some degree of immunity to the virus can still transmit it to others.
We now know that most people who have contracted the virus and developed antibodies are protected from reinfection, but it’s not yet complete and we don’t know how long the protection lasts, said Susan Hopkins, PHE’s senior medical advisor and co-principal investigator of the study, as reported by Reuters.
Even if you think you have already experienced the disease and are protected, you can be sure that you are not at risk for serious infections. But there is always a risk of becoming infected and passing it on to others, Hopkins said.
Hopkins said that in an interview today on Thursday.
An [infection] reduces the risk by at least 80%…. but does not eliminate it, she said.
We have found people with very high levels of the virus in the nose and throat swabs that easily fall into the range that would lead to transmission to other people. Hopkins stressed that people who have already contracted Covid-19 should still adhere to the rules of social distancing to avoid transmitting the disease.
England is currently under strict national isolation after things erupted over the holidays. More than 3.2 million cases of infection have been reported in the UK.
What [the study] shows is that you’re likely to have a high level of protection immediately after infection, but that protection decreases over time, said Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist at Imperial College London.
Transmission is now slower than it would have been without the infection, and people already infected with the virus have a lower risk of becoming infected – slowing the spread.
This study supports the hypothesis that primary infection provides a high degree of immunity to reinfection in the short to medium term; and the degree of prevention of symptomatic infection is comparable to vaccines currently licensed for working-age adults, according to the PHE report.
Primary infection also reduces the risk of asymptomatic infection and therefore subsequent transmission; this is particularly important as it was considered that healthcare provision during the first wave in the UK could contribute to community transmission.
Researchers will continue to study the antibody response to infection and the effects of Covid 19 vaccines.
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