Repeated Infections Increase Risk of Complications
As the COVID-19 virus evolves and creates new variants, the risk of repeated infections rises and with it an increased risk of developing the collection of chronic symptoms known at long COVID, according to a world health official.
“The more times you get it, the more likely you are to be unlucky and end up with long COVID — which is the thing that none of us want because it can be so serious,” David Nabarro, a World Health Organization special envoy on COVID-19, told Sky News.
Long COVID is the name for a collection of health problems including brain fog, depression and fatigue reported by millions of people who have recovered from infections. Long COVID can affect the brain, heart, lungs, digestive organs and other body systems.
According to one study, at least 43% of people who recover from a COVID-19 infection report developing long COVID symptoms.
While countries around the world have lifted most restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic to curb infections, Nabarro urged people to continue to wear masks in crowds and test themselves if they feel sick.
Nabarro said his concern is that the more often someone develops a COVID-19 infection, the higher their odds of developing long COVID — “which is the thing that none of us want because it can knock people off their stride for months,” he added.
Nabarro expressed his concern as new waves of the omicron variant’s BA.4 and BA.5 strains are sweeping Africa, Europe and North America.
“The potential for infection or reinfection or breakthrough infection with BA.4 and BA.5 is alarmingly high,” Dr. Kevin Kavanagh recently wrote in Infection Control Today. “Even as many of our policymakers have focused on deaths, long COVID-19 is continuing to take a toll on society by impacting multiple organ systems.”
Kavanagh said the evidence suggests the damage to a person’s body by COVID-19 builds up with each repeat infection, eventually leading to the debilitating symptoms of long COVID.
Omicron and its offshoots have proven much more capable than previous variants of bypassing both natural and acquired immunity to cause new infections in people who have already recovered from a previous infection.
Omicron’s capacity for what scientists call “immune escape” has helped it overwhelm previous variants to spread worldwide. In South Africa, where scientists first identified omicron, blood tests show that 98% of the population has been exposed to COVID-19 following the first omicron wave that hit the country at the end of 2021.
“It’s like it’s changing its overcoat all the time,” Nabarro said of the virus.