TBC Explainer: The difference between relapse and reinfection

With the second wave of Covid-19, here's a look at the possibility of reinfections and relapse of infections
Covid-19 virus affecting human body
Covid-19 virus affecting human bodyImage: The Bridge Chronicle

With the rise in Covid-19 cases, and an increase in the restrictions, the country is fearful of the new wave of coronavirus infections. If reports are to be believed, the virus, is now considered to be stronger and more potent.

In the last few days, there have been increased discussions on vaccine politics and the nationwide shortage. Additionally, India has been openly exporting vaccine to other nations. All of this while claiming that they do not have enough vaccines for the residents of the country. In such times, reports of possible reinfections of the virus have shaken the nation.

Reinfection study

According to a recent study, and the first-of-its-kind, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) identified the plausible cases of reinfection of the SARS-CoV2 virus in India. The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Infection.

For the purpose of the study, the scientist examined 1,300 individuals who had tested positive for the virus twice.

According to the findings, 58 cases of the total 1,300 people examined could be classified as possible reinfections. This classification was made basis that the two positive results (in the 58 people) had come at least 102 days apart, and they also had a negative test result in between.

This study has pegged the possibility of reinfection in reference with Covid-19 at 4.5 per cent. But this percentage is based on the study. In India, the percentage could be much higher.

It was previously believed, that people who had contracted the virus, upon recovery had antigens for at least six months. But in the light of the study, the definition of reinfection changes. According to the new definition -- an infected individual must test positive for Covid-19 102 days from when they first tested positive. Also, the person must have tested negative in the interim period at least once.

However, reinfections and relapse of infection are common when considering other viruses such as pneumonia, typhoid, malaria etc. But, when we live through a pandemic gaining in-depth knowledge on prevention and precautions to avoid reinfections and relapse becomes extremely necessary.

The Bridge Chronicle decided to decode the science behind reinfections and relapse of infections.

To begin, we need to first look at the definition of the two words -- Reinfection and Relapse infection.

Reinfection, as defined by Merriam-webster is the infection following recovery from or superimposed on infection of the same type.

Whereas, the same dictionary defines relapse as a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement. Relapse of infection is common in typhoid or malaria when in some cases, the virus has not died completely. A weakened virus suddenly becomes active, further deteriorating the situation.

How does mutation of virus affect reinfections?

"Infection with the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, increased transmission by about 50%. Mutations can help the virus to evade immune systems, vaccines or antibody therapies thereby causing reinfections," says Dr. Tushau Prasad, Consultant Emergency Medicine at Wockhardt Hospital.

How are reinfections and relapse different from each other? Reinfection is when an infection reoccurs. A relapse is when the infection is not cured in the first instance.

Does mutation of the virus play a role in reinfection? A mutated virus can cause reinfection, as the virus comes in a different form to the host.

When it comes to reinfection with SARS-CoV2 the virus causing coronavirus, there is still scope for a lot of discussions. Though yet there isn't enough data on whether a person can permanently develop immunity or antigens to fight the virus, the new study shows that there is a possibility of reinfection.

Reasons for reinfections?

Reinfection can be caused by a mutated virus or the absence of antibodies or low immunity. To avoid reinfections it is best to follow precautionary measures and stay indoors. Also, our bodies become weak after infections, so it is important to take special measures to keep your body healthy.

Why is it important to understand the possibility of reinfections?

An understanding of the possibility of reinfection is crucial to the fight against the pandemic. This does not only help decide the intervention strategies but also helps in controlling the spread of the disease. It will also help better the preventive measures and also the vaccination drive.

As of now, not many instances of reinfection have been affirmed. The initially affirmed case was accounted for from Hong Kong in August a year ago. From that point, two or three cases from the US and Belgium likewise arose. There have been a few instances of individuals testing positive for the infection on numerous occasions, even in India, yet not all such cases are viewed as reinfections. That is a result of what is classified as "persistent viral shedding". Recuperated patients can now and then keep on conveying low degrees of infection inside their framework for as long as a quarter of a year. These levels are not, at this point enough to make the individual debilitated or communicate the sickness to other people, however, they can get recognized in demonstrative tests.

As the number of cases increases and the potency of the virus changes it is best to stay informed. Though it is hard to protect ourselves from the unseen virus, it is easier to take precautions and ensure safety as much as possible.

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