Lubbock man learns second COVID-19 diagnosis rare, but not impossible
Steven Macias said when he first tested positive for the novel coronavirus in August, he felt like he had a bad, but manageable, case of the flu.
“The second time was the bad one."
Yes — you read that right.
“It was on a whole other scale,” Macias said.
Seventy-five days after his first diagnosis, Macias again tested positive for the coronavirus. He says he never tested negative in between his bouts with the illness. He quarantined until he no longer had symptoms and was declared recovered.
Then he started to feel sick again. Macias said there was a severe coronavirus outbreak at the call center he works at. He got tested again — and again, he tested positive.
In late October, as the hospitalization rate began to rise in Lubbock, Macias was admitted to a local hospital for low oxygen levels. The man in his 30s says he’s doing better, but still feels fatigued and often struggles to breathe.
Macias said his doctors told him he seems to have caught it twice. It’s hard to say without more tests, according to the latest research on reinfections of COVID-19.
“You could actually have a documented case where a patient acquires COVID-19, tests positive for it, gets over it, becomes asymptomatic. Actually have a negative test later on. And then becomes ill again and again tests positive for it," said Dr. Craig Rhyne, regional chief medical officer at Covenant Health. Now that’s the definition of a second infection.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports few cases like this, but recent research suggests it’s possible. Here's what the CDC states about a situation similar to Macias', where he went from symptomatic, to asymptomatic to sicker than before.
"If such a person becomes symptomatic during this 90-day period and an evaluation fails to identify a diagnosis other than SARS-CoV-2 infection (e.g., influenza), then the person may warrant evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 reinfection in consultation with an infectious disease or infection control expert," a recent post to the CDC website states. "Isolation may be warranted during this evaluation, particularly if symptoms developed after close contact with an infected person."
Lubbock's Health Authority Dr. Ron Cook said especially if a person's first experience with COVID-19 was mild, they may not have the necessary biological defenses to be considered immune.
There could be another explanation. Traces of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have been detected in people's upper respiratory systems for up to three months after their initial onset of symptoms, according to the CDC. In that period, infected people are less contagious. It's unlikely, but a "second case of COVID-19" could be a flare-up of a virus that hasn't left a person's body.
Ultimately, the CDC states "the duration and robustness of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 remains under investigation."
“I would not take any chances," Cook said at a recent news conference. "Just because you’ve had it, doesn’t mean you should be nonchalant.”
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
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