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18th January, 20213 min read

Can you get coronavirus twice?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Caroline Bodian
Last reviewed: 12/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the world, claiming millions of lives and infecting tens of millions of people.

Despite the development of several vaccines and treatments to help fight this new virus, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about it. And one question lots of people are asking is: can you get COVID-19 twice?

Read on to find out what the experts say about COVID-19 and reinfection, and how you can help protect yourself.

What the evidence tells us

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that there’s no evidence that people who have had COVID-19, and have antibodies, are protected from getting the virus again. This means that a so-called ‘immunity passport’ – to allow people who have recovered from COVID-19 to return to work or travel – may not be a sensible thing for governments to introduce.

While most scientific studies show that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have made antibodies against the virus, some of those people only have very low levels of antibodies in their blood. This suggests that something called ‘cellular immunity’ is also important for recovery from COVID-19 – not just antibodies.

Research has shown that cellular immunity lasts for at least six months after even mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. The lead study author Paul Moss, from the University of Birmingham, said, “However, it does not mean that people cannot be re-infected. We need to have much larger population studies to show that.”

Woman with face mask travelling in the tram during Covid-19 outbreak

How to avoid infection or reinfection

So, whether or not you’ve already had COVID-19, you should still do whatever you can to avoid infection – and to avoid giving it to other people.

Steps you should take are the same as those to help you avoid initial infection, and include:

  • wearing a mask in enclosed spaces, or where you can’t keep apart from other people
  • regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • using hand sanitiser when soap isn’t available
  • carrying tissues to sneeze and cough into, and throwing them away after use
  • avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • avoiding anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms

Health agencies and governments worldwide recommend staying at home as much as possible to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is recommended, too – this means you should try to stay at least 1 to 2 metres away from anyone you don’t live with.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who has it, you may need to self-isolate – this means avoiding face-to-face contact with other people for up to 14 days.

A mother teaching her baby how to wash her hands in the bathroom sink

Key points

  • our bodies may get better at fighting the virus after being infected – but more research is needed
  • having antibodies doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune to COVID-19
  • you should take the recommended steps to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19, whether or not you’ve had the virus
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