Home / News / India /  ICMR study finds 4.5% covid cases are reinfections

An investigation by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has found reinfection in 4.5% of those who contracted covid-19, prompting the study’s authors to express concern just as the vaccination drive rolled into its latest phase on Thursday.

The study of 1,300 individuals, published in the Epidemiology and Infection journal, was conducted to develop an epidemiological understanding of reinfection and assess its magnitude in India.

“A working epidemiological case definition of SARS CoV-2 reinfection is important to strengthen surveillance. The present investigation contributes to this goal and records reinfection in 4.5% of SARS CoV-2 infected individuals in India," the study stated.

The study defined reinfection as any individual who tested positive for coronavirus on two separate occasions by either molecular tests or rapid antigen test at an interval of at least 102 days with one negative molecular test in between.

“The findings may be of concern because the data was for only for eight months—from 22 January to 7 October 2020. This may be much higher... in the current scenario where we are seeing increasing fresh cases. That’s why it is very important to adopt protective behaviour even after infection or vaccination," said Dr Samiran Panda, head, epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, one of the authors of the study. “The reinfection cases were earlier confirmed by only genome sequencing for which we need specific infrastructure, which may not be available everywhere. With the new definition, we can easily tab reinfection cases in India."

The findings come at a time when the country is going through a second wave of infection, which public health experts fear could be worse than the first one despite the vaccination drive. While covid-19 reinfection is rarely reported, immunity should not be assumed, and public health measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, and use of masks should be followed after recovery from the first infection, the study stated.

Experts said the epidemiological definition of reinfection is needed for establishing a surveillance system as India’s vaccination drive rolled into its latest phase, with as many as 1.74 million people were vaccinated on Thursday for a total of 67.5 million people since the programme started.

The inoculation drive has already taken in healthcare and frontline workers, people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above. However, the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) has been saying that the impact of vaccines in reducing transmission is yet to be known. In such a scenario, reinfection may hinder the country’s fight against the pandemic.

“There is a lot of uncertainty around the immunity produced by natural infection. No vaccine is 100% effective, the only exception is the small pox vaccine. The currently available vaccines are able to reduce laboratory-confirmed symptomatic cases of covid-19 and also cut down severe cases needing hospitalization. But asymptomatic infections are a possibility," said Lalit Kant, former head of communicable diseases at ICMR.

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