Are some people immune to COVID-19?

Queensland researchers are working to ways to determine whether some people have developed an immunity to the coronavirus and how others could benefit from it.

Queensland Institute of Medical Research acting director David Whiteman said finding out if people can build up an immunity is the next obvious course of action.

"Part of the recovery from COVID, as a pandemic, will be getting people back to work," he told Nine's Today show.

 

 

"If we know that people have a mounted immune response, an effective immune response, and are actually safe and not able to get infected again, those people can go back to the front line as doctors, nurses, ambulancemen and policemen."

Prof Whiteman said his and other teams around the world are developing tests to show if someone has "mounted an effective immune response".

 

Professor David Whiteman said multiple teams are researching the virus. Picture: Russell Shakespeare
Professor David Whiteman said multiple teams are researching the virus. Picture: Russell Shakespeare

 

He said they have about eight teams of scientists researching different aspects of the COVID-19 virus.

"We have got people who are growing the virus. We actually have the virus in the building in a very highly contained laboratory, that's a very, very critical operation," he said.

"That will support research efforts around the world."

Other teams are working on figuring out how the virus gets into cells and damages them and how existing drugs might block those pathways.

Other people are looking at why some people get mild symptoms while others are severely affected and trying to predict who is going to be more at risk.

There are also teams looking at whether the virus can be transmitted between mothers and babies.

"This is a global effort. Teams around the world are working on this. We are sharing our information," Prof Whiteman said.

"Any one of us could come up with the critical discovery at any point in time. I hate to put a timeline on it, but our teams are working extremely hard to be there as quickly as they can.

"At the moment it's weeks to months, but it's a day-by-day operation."

 

Researchers are trying to determine if some people have developed an immunity from the virus. Picture: Rebeca Figueiredo Amorim/Getty Images
Researchers are trying to determine if some people have developed an immunity from the virus. Picture: Rebeca Figueiredo Amorim/Getty Images

 

He said researchers at not really sure why the virus impacts some people more than others, though they do know it is partly age dependent.

"Older people and those with other diseases we know are at higher risk of a severe outcome," Prof Whiteman said.

There are some people who are younger who also succumb. That's a real challenge for us. We need to understand that as well."

Since the virus emerged there have been questions of whether people can catch the disease more than once.

Concerns about the possibility of becoming infected twice have risen largely from an incident in Japan, where government officials reported that a woman had reportedly caught the virus a second time.

 


The tour bus guide, first diagnosed with COVID-19 in late January according to a statement released by Osaka's prefectural government, was discharged shortly after her symptoms had improved.

A subsequent test came back negative for the virus - but three weeks later, she returned to hospital with a sore throat and chest pain, and tested positive for the disease again.

Similar cases of "reinfection" have been reported in China, where a physician warned it was possible for recovered patients to contract the virus again.

However senior medical virologist with NSW Health Pathology William Rawlinson said it's too soon to say if this is a feature of the virus.

There are several possible scenarios, including that detection of the virus becomes negative in the nose and throat but persists in the lungs.

"Once you have the infection, it could remain dormant and with minimal symptoms, and then you can get an exacerbation if it finds its way into the lungs," NYU School of Medicine Professor Philip Tierno told Reuters.

Originally published as Are some people immune to COVID-19?


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