If you’ve never had COVID, should you relax or worry? March 9, 2022 — If you are among those people in the United States who have never had COVID-19, how should you think about your risk? According to the CDC, more than half of the people in the US are categorized as never getting sick with COVID-19.
By the end of January, the CDC estimated that 43.4% of US residents had antibodies to the coronavirus, caused by infection rather than vaccination, suggesting that nearly 60% of people have never been infected. Now mask mandates are being lifted and the daily numbers of cases and deaths are falling. According to the New York Timestracker, in the past 2 weeks, the number of new cases has decreased by 51%, and mortality has decreased by 30% over this period. So as those who have escaped the virus so far are sent to newly opened environments, should they be more or less worried about the risk than people who were infected before them? Some experts warn against feeling invincible.
No “armor” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, says science has failed to determine why some people managed to stay free of COVID-19 when the virus was rampant and exposure was widespread. He says it’s important to remember that while some people think they never had COVID-19, they could have had the disease without symptoms or blamed mild symptoms on something else. “People may have, conceivably – but we can’t determine yet – different abilities to defend themselves against viruses or bacteria,” Schaffner says. Maybe some people have a better immune system, or some set of genes, or a particular environmental reason that makes them less susceptible to infectious diseases? “We can’t define it in 2022 medicine, but it could be,” he says.
More is known about why people get worse than others with the same exposure to COVID-19. All these things clearly worsen the reaction of the body. to the virus,” Schaffner says. However, he warns those who have never been infected not to assume they have “armor”. Everyone should continue to follow vaccination recommendations, and those who have been vaccinated should continue to get booster shots, Schaffner said. If “never COVID-19 patients” develop a respiratory infection, Schaffner said they should still get tested for COVID-19. He says that while both vaccines and previous infection provide protection, it is not yet known how long that protection will last. “We need to be aware,” Schaffner says. “In the future, there may be a recommendation to get a booster every year or something like that. We must be open to those in the future.” Amesh Adalya, MD, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, says it’s unclear why some people managed to avoid COVID-19.
There are likely many reasons for this, he says, and they have to do with the fact that each person’s immune system reacts differently. This in itself is probably based on differences in our genes. He also agrees that many of us have probably been infected and never knew it. However, he said, now is not the time to be overconfident about taking risks when it comes to COVID-19. “People who have not knowingly been infected with COVID should be vaccinated, and after that they should be sure that they are protected from serious illness with this virus,” he says. Genetic protection? A new study in the journal Nature Genetics explains the potential genetic link.
The study authors found evidence that a certain enzyme called ACE2, which helps regulate blood pressure, wound healing and inflammation, also serves as an open cell door for some coronaviruses, such as the one that causes COVID-19. Manuel A. Ferreira, Ph.D., executive director of analytical genetics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, says ACE2 receptors – what he calls the “gateway” to the coronavirus – are different in people who have inherited a specific genetic variant, known as an allele.