People who have fallen ill with coronavirus are likely to develop an immunity to the virus for at least five months, according to a new study by Public Health England. But, researchers caution that despite immunity, previously infected patients could still carry the virus in their nose and throat, continuing the spread of the virus.
The study has tested tens of thousands of health care workers across the UK since June looking for new infections among people who also have antibodies.
Within a five-month period, between June 18 and Nov. 24, scientists found 44 potential reinfections out of 6,614 participants who tested positive for antibodies, which indicates whether a person has previously been infected.
With that known, researchers determined that infected people are 83% less likely than those without any infection to catch the coronavirus again over a five-month period.
The agency suggests that those who fell ill with the virus at the start of the pandemic, around springtime, could now be vulnerable to catching it again.
The study cautions that those already ill with the disease could still carry high levels of the virus and should continue to maintain the same recommended safety protocols.
"This study has given us the clearest picture to date of the nature of antibody protection against COVID-19 but it is critical people do not misunderstand these early findings," Professor Susan Hopkins, senior medical advisor at Public Health England, said in a statement, according to CBS News.
Participants of the study will continue to be monitored –– specifically to see how long immunity lasts, how effective vaccines are, and to confirm whether people who have had the virus can still pass it on.
In addition to monitoring these participants, researchers are working to determine if the prior infection can protect someone from the new, highly transmittable variant of the virus that surfaced in southern England.