An individual who tested positive for COVID-19 and was considered recovered in Nova Scotia is once again displaying symptoms, and inconclusive tests have labs working to determine if this is the first case of reinfection in Canada.
As work continues around the world on vaccines, a big unknown is if being infected with the virus provides some sort of immunity and for how long — or can individuals be reinfected?
According to Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, there have only been two or three documented cases around the world where there is enough proof to show that an individual was reinfected, though he says he does expect that number to grow.
In Nova Scotia, the microbiology lab is now working with its national partner to determine if there is such a case here.
It’s in relation to a new case that was announced in the province on Monday. Strang says the case involves a home care worker in the Central Zone who tested positive for the first time in May.
At the time, Strang says individuals did not need a negative test for their cases to be resolved. Based on conversations with their national counterparts, public health was considering cases resolved if the individual was at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms and their acute symptoms were resolved.
“So this individual met those criteria for having their case resolved, went for four months, then developed new symptoms which screened them in for testing again.”
This time around, the results have shown as inconclusive, prompting a further investigation by both the provincial and national microbiology labs. Strang said:
“In the meantime, under an abundance of caution, we are assuming that this is a new positive case, and taking appropriate public health measures.”
Those measures include contact tracing, and individually assessing each of the home care worker’s clients. While the individual was wearing personal protective equipment and following public health measures including physical distancing, public health is monitoring clients to determine if any testing will be required. Public health is also working to determine where the individual may have been exposed.
“We do not want to wait. We can’t wait for the final answer from the lab,” Strang said.
While there may never be a final conclusive answer from the lab, if it is determined the individual has been reinfected, it could be the first such case in the country.
“The implications of reinfection mean we are raising or making it more likely, we can’t count on a one-time infection producing life long immunity,” Strang said.
“That’s not a surprise to us, most respiratory viruses act like this.”
But he says it does reiterate the importance of following all public health measures — even if you have been infected with the virus in the first wave, because there’s no guarantee that you won’t be infected down the road.
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