'It used to be true': UNC doctor dispels myth that COVID-19 cannot re-infect those within 2-3 months

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
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New information from medical experts point to the fact that more people are getting infected with COVID-19.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- New information from medical experts point to the fact that more people are getting infected with COVID-19.

"The virus is tweaking itself to be more infectious," said Dr. David Wohl, UNC Health infectious diseases expert. "What we're talking about is a virus that's a little bit more catchy than the previous version."

Wohl is referring to the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron that is sweeping the region and the nation. According to Wohl, about half of all new COVID infections are BA.5.

When asked to explain why that is, Wohl said variants have the ability to mutate and each subvariant is a stronger version of its predecessor that is responding better to human efforts in reducing or erasing its efficacy.

"We as a population have built up a wall of immunity to COVID-19 because of vaccination and boosting and natural infection. So all that immunity makes it harder and harder for the previous versions of Omicron and previous versions of COVID-19 to spread. It just hits a dead end," said Wohl. "So it has to mutate and it does once in a while. And every once in a while a mutant comes along that can get around this wall."

That explains why human efforts aren't perfect for people who previously contracted COVID. The perception that if a person has had COVID once, they cannot get sick again, is more old wives' tale than fact.

"I wish that was true. It used to be true," Wohl added. "So the immunity just like vaccine immunity could be weakened, natural immunity could be weakened. So we are seeing people who got infected two or three months ago now getting infected again."

During the height of the pandemic, health facilities were reporting dangerously low ICU capacity as beds were full of COVID patients. The numbers now are significantly lower.

"We are not at a dead end. There's a lot of good news here," said Wohl. People should appreciate that this could have been a lot worse. We're doing really well all things considered, but we have to keep ahead of the virus, you know, be proactive, not reactive, And we're getting there."

In getting there, Wohl suggests getting vaccinated if you're among those yet to vaccinate and to get a booster shot. He said it is not 100 percent in keeping people from getting sick, but it drastically prevents serious illness, hospital visits, or death.

"We've got to outsmart this virus and the only way we're going to do that is with the tools at hand. And that's building up that wall higher and higher and higher of immunity such that the virus can't get over it. That's our goal," said Wohl.

But when will we all finally build a wall that COVID cannot get over and rid ourselves of this pandemic once and for all?

"My crystal ball is still coming to me from Amazon. I ordered it a long time ago. It still hasn't arrived. Once I get that crystal ball, I can answer the question," Wohl joked. "We don't know. We don't know about the future. We only know what we're learning from looking in a rearview mirror. And we've learned a lot. And using the rearview mirror, we can kind of predict what's going to happen on the road in front of us."