Nov. 11, 2022 – Getting COVID-19 a second time doubles a person’s chance of dying and triples the likelihood of being hospitalized, a new study found.

Vaccination and booster status did not improve survival or hospitalization rates among people who were infected more than once.

"Reinfection with COVID-19 increases the risk of both acute outcomes and long COVID," study author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, told Reuters. "This was evident in unvaccinated, vaccinated and boosted people."

The study was published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Researchers analyzed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data :

  • 443,588 people with a first infection of SARS-CoV-2
  • 40,947 people who were infected two or more times 
  • 5.3 million people who had not been infected with coronavirus, whose data served as the control group

“During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started to [refer] to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus,” Al-Aly said in a press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.”

Being infected with COVID-19 more than once also dramatically increased the risk of developing lung problems, heart conditions or brain conditions. The heightened risks persisted for six months.

Researchers said a limitation of their study was that data primarily came from white males.

An expert not involved in the study told Reuters that the Veterans Affairs population does not reflect the general population. Patients at VA health facilities are generally older with more than normal health complications, said John Moore, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Al-Aly encouraged people to be vigilant as they plan for the holiday season, Reuters reported.

"We had started seeing a lot of patients coming to the clinic with an air of invincibility," he told Reuters. "They wondered, 'Does getting a reinfection really matter?' The answer is yes, it absolutely does."

 

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Reuters: “Repeat COVID is riskier than first infection, study finds.”

University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis: “Repeat COVID-19 infections increase risk of organ failure, death.”

Nature Medicine: “Acute and postacute sequelae associated with SARS-CoV-2 reinfection.”

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