If you’re sitting reading this while isolating with your second (or even third) bout of Covid-19, you’re definitely not alone. 

Reinfections of Covid-19 are on the rise in New Zealand with nearly one in five cases (19%) this week classed as a reinfection. 

There are several reasons for that increase, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says, and the first is simply a numbers game.

In order to be reinfected with Covid-19, you need to have been infected a first time. 

“Initially, no one was [reinfected in New Zealand] because all people were infected for the first time,” Baker says.

“But as time goes on, we think maybe over half of New Zealanders are infected, so it just means the opportunities to [get] a reinfection have risen.”

Another factor driving the increase in reinfections is the fact that reinfection is common with coronaviruses. 

“Your protection [against Covid-19] wanes over time,” Baker says.

“As we've seen, the virus is continuing to evolve … where it evades existing immunity. So that's the second driver of [reinfections].”

The consequences of reinfection

Baker says it is still unclear whether reinfections of Covid-19 are as serious as original infections.

“On average the evidence suggests it's probably going to be somewhat milder but that's not guaranteed,” he says.

“Some people get a worse infection, so you're running the risk of feeling miserable again, and being off work and so on.

“You've got the risk of getting seriously ill, going to hospital, dying, or getting long Covid - all those [risks] are there every time you get this infection.”

Combatting the risk of reinfection

Baker was one of hundreds of co-authors on a global consensus statement published in Nature last week that had more than 60 recommendations for managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the top recommendations was taking a “vaccines-plus” approach, where vaccinations are used alongside other public health and social measures.

“The first, absolutely most important thing is for everyone to be up to date on their vaccination and boosters. They do protect you from serious illness,” Baker says.

“At the moment, quite a high proportion, about 25% of [eligible] New Zealanders have not had their third dose and over 50% have not had their fourth dose. So that's a big gap at the moment in vaccine coverage.”

Baker says there might still be some misinformation at play about the Covid vaccine.

“[People] might think that the vaccines carry some risks, and they’ve got that out of proportion [because] the infection is still far more serious than any vaccine adverse events.”

As well as making sure people are up to date with their Covid vaccinations, Baker says we should still be thinking about other precautions.

While people won’t be able to eliminate infection entirely, they could reduce the risk through ventilation, some mask use in some situations and moving events outside, especially during summer, he says. 

“If [you’re] going to [have] a big event indoors, where there's going to be a lot of contact, you can get all your guests to test themselves before they come, for instance. Some workplaces also get everyone to test before they come to work every day.”

“So all of these things work well at reducing the risk. You're not eliminating it, but if you can turn down the risk by 50% or more, that will make a measurable difference,” Baker says. 

“It means that you may be able to halve your risk of getting infected and reinfected. And that's actually going to be better for your health.” 

What to do if you’re reinfected with Covid-19 in Aotearoa:

If you experience Covid-19 symptoms less than 28 days after your first infection with the virus, the Government doesn’t require you to do a rapid antigen test (RAT). 

Instead, it says to stay home until 24 hours after you no longer have symptoms.

If you become sick with Covid-19 symptoms 29 days or more since your first infection, you should test using a RAT. 

If that test is positive, you need to follow the standard isolation guidelines

If you are reinfected with Covid-19, you also have access to the same advice and support as you did during your previous infection.

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