Last updated March 18, 2020 at 4:30 pm
Does surviving COVID-19 give you immunity? How do we minimise anxiety and panic? Australian experts break down COVID-19.
Why This Matters: You’ve got coronavirus questions, we’ve got answers (from experts).
The coronavirus situation is continuing to rapidly evolve and people have a lot of questions and worries. We’ve got the information straight from a number of Australian experts.
Read even more expert answers here.
Does surviving COVID-19 give you immunity?
The answer is that we do not know yet. It seems likely that infection will generate protective immunity, at least in the short-term, and in the absence of virus mutation. There have been rare reported cases of reinfection, where an infected individual seems to have recovered but then tests positive for the virus later, for reasons that are unclear.
However, the general consensus amongst experts is that recovery from infection is likely to result in subsequent protection; the reinfection observation is unlikely to have occurred and probably results from a testing regime that gave a false negative result at the time of recovery. – IHe
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Infection with COVID-19 certainly activates your immune system. Viruses typically do induce immune protection, and this is certainly the case for other types of coronaviruses. At this stage, we (as scientists/immunologists/clinicians) are still in the process of fully characterising the nature of an immune response that occurs after infection with SARS CoV2.
Some studies have found markers in the blood that would indicate virus-induced immune response. Notably, some of these “biomarkers” also associate with increased mortality, indicating hyper-immune activation can be damaging (which is not unique to COVID-19). This actually has also indicated a possible means of treating some of the adverse effects of SARS CoV2 infection (ie targeting these biomarkers/inflammatory markers).
But whether this immune response will be protective in the long term is unclear. – ST
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A recent monkey study out of China where they re-challenged a small number of monkeys two weeks after they recovered from the first infection, showed they were protected from the second infection.
This demonstrates that COVID-19 induces at least short term immune protection against re-infection. There are important provisos:
- Monkeys get a much milder COVID-19 infection than most humans with no temperature rise or serious illness – hence we still don’t know if this will translate directly to humans.
- The second challenge was performed just 4 weeks after the primary infection (2 weeks post-recovery) so this still does not tell us whether COVID19 immunity may be long-lived or may wear off several months post-infection.
However, this is the first sign that COVID-19 vaccines should be able to prevent COVID-19 infection. Clearly, a lot more research is needed but congratulations on this group for advancing our knowledge on immunity acutely post-infection – NP
Is it actually better to have young people (who are at less risk of dying/serious illness) to get COVID-19 to develop herd immunity?
Sometimes herd immunity can occur in a population when enough people have contracted and recovered from an infection, and therefore developed immunity. This is in fact how epidemics die out naturally; that is, when there are not enough susceptible people to infect.
The advantage of developing herd immunity through vaccination is that you can obtain immunity without developing the illness and therefore the possibility of severe consequences. It is a very risky strategy to allow a disease that is known to have severe outcomes to just run its course in a large group of the population in order to develop herd immunity and in theory protect more vulnerable groups. By doing this you are in fact putting many people at risk of severe illness. – HV
Do epidemiologists agree that children continuing to go to school minimises the risk to vulnerable groups such as the elderly?
Closing schools works for seasonal flu, because children are susceptible to infection, but it does not necessarily work for all outbreaks. We do not know about coronavirus, which shows a relative sparing of children, in terms of serious disease.
Experience from the Spanish flu did not indicate significant benefits from closing schools. Given the longevity of the incubation period for coronavirus it may only have a marginal impact of flattening the curve. If excluded from school for a 13-week period it is likely that the children would mix anyway, and if carriers transmission would be sustained. The flow on impact to the economy and healthcare system could be significant.
The answer is not always “do it now”. Certainly, older citizens and those with underlying comorbidities need to be protected from exposure to the virus, and that protection must last over the peak of cases. Those most at risk, the elderly and those with comorbidities should consider isolating themselves from potential sources of infection, this includes children. – IHe
How do we reduce anxiety and panic?
The key to reducing unnecessary anxiety, and related social panic, is the provision of transparent, accurate and relevant public information; being delivered by those the public trusts (i.e. real experts, doctors with experience, trusted news sources).
As well, actually modelling the best behaviour at the highest and most public levels makes a real difference – if we want the public to change behaviour, those with greatest public profile (politicians, health, sports, celebrities) need to show how through their actions. – IHi
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As Australia experiences the implications of the coronavirus crisis, the issue is not just a health or economic concern, but also a mental health and wellbeing crisis.
Beyond medical and public health interventions that the government is developing to combat COVID-19, it is necessary to start developing wellbeing, mental health and resilience supports for individuals and communities – including a simple 6-step strategy called STREAM that individuals can put into effect.
If wellbeing and resilience interventions are rolled out early, we prevent people turning up unnecessarily to medical services, and becoming too anxious, developing mental health problems or exacerbating any existing problems such as OCD, anxiety or trauma conditions.
Deeper: Take the panic out of pandemic
STREAM is the acronym for 6 simple strategies we can all follow if we are quarantined or working from home.
- S is for Social networking. Dinners or dessert and coffee over Skype are always a hoot!
- T is for Time Out.
- R is for Relaxation, mindfulness or yoga strategies.
- E is for Exercise and Entertainment.
- A is for Alternative thinking. Think things through to find resolution, or talk to someone else, such as a friend or a counsellor.
- M is for being Mindful of others.
It’s no different in the current COVID-19 crisis. Many people appear to be controlling their fears and their need for certainty or control through panic buying – but the resulting pandemonium will not see us in good stead in the long run. Panic buying not only leads to many people in need missing out, but also builds further panic. – MK
For the latest updates from the Australian Government Department of Health, visit their website.
Dr Trish Campbell (TC) is a Research Fellow at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.
Professor Ian Henderson (IHe) is the Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland. He is a Professor of Microbiology, and founder and former Director of the UKs largest Microbiology/Infection institute, the Institute of Microbiology and Infection.
Professor Stuart Tangye (ST) is Leader of the Immunity & Inflammation Theme and Head of the Immunology & Immunodeficiency Lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical research. He is also a Professor (Conjoint) at St Vincent’s Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney.
Professor Mike Kyrios (MK) is Vice President & Executive Dean, College of Education, Psychology & Social Work, and Director, Órama Institute of Mental Health, Wellbeing & Neuroscience at Flinders University.