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How Often Can You Get Infected with COVID?

The reality of virus reinfections, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Since the official beginning of the pandemic in 2020, there have been various variants and subvariants causing surges and spikes in COVID cases. "For two and a half years, Covid-19 has been outrunning our response, getting more and more transmissible, reaching a level of infectiousness that few pathogens have ever attained," says Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, professor of molecular medicine and executive vice-president of Scripps Research. Here is the lowdown on COVID reinfections, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

The BA.2.12.1 Wave Is Causing Reinfections

Female Lab Research Worker Wearing PPE Holding Test Tube Labelled BA.2
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"In recent months, we experienced a striking jump in transmissibility when the Omicron (BA.1) variant became dominant, with at least a threefold increase in reproductive number beyond Delta," says Topol. "Despite the hope that this might be reaching the upper limit of the virus's spreadability, we quickly transitioned to a BA.2 wave, with at least another jump of about 30% transmissibility, and now we are heading, in the United States, to a dominant subvariant known as BA.2.12.1, which is another 25% more transmissible than BA.2 and already accounting for close to 50% of new cases."

2

Reinfections Could Go On Long-Term

Woman wearing surgical mask on face protective for spreading of disease Covid-19 pandemic.. Girl symptom cough while sitting on Sofa.
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"It seems likely to me that that's going to sort of be a long-term pattern," says Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. "The virus is going to keep evolving. And there are probably going to be a lot of people getting many, many reinfections throughout their lives."

3

Reinfections Could Happen Several Times a Year

Teenage boy sick in bed with Covid-19 symptoms
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"If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year," says Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. "I would be very surprised if that's not how it's going to play out."

4

Past Infections Won't Prevent Reinfection

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"You don't have great protection having been infected with BA.1," says Dr. Warner C. Greene, senior investigator for the Gladstone Institutes. "It's immunosuppressive. It's acquiring these mutations which make it like a stealth virus. We have our immune system at the ready trying to prevent these infections, but the virus is now learning how to elude the antibodies. It has less success against the T-cells thank goodness."

5

We Cannot Live With COVID

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital.
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"No, we don't have to live with Covid, because the Covid we are seeing now is deeply concerning," says Topol. "While there has not been a surge in hospitalizations, they are clearly on the increase, with more than a 20% rise in the United States over the past two weeks. The proportion of people getting hospitalized and dying among the vaccinated, as compared with the unvaccinated, has substantially increased.

6

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more