Doctors are unsure why the virus sometimes reappears — or if it is contagious the second time around

By Claudia Harmata
June 17, 2020 11:15 AM
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A woman in Dallas is fighting her second battle against the coronavirus.

Meredith McKee first tested positive for the potentially deadly virus in February, diagnosed after feeling "clear and obvious" symptoms, she told NBC 5.

"I had a dry cough like you would not believe. It would not stop,” McKee recalled, explaining that she managed to fight off the first bout of the virus from home.

She even donated some of her plasma after testing positive for antibodies.

"I felt great finally [doing] something good coming out of the hell that I’ve been through because I'm going to help up to eight people with this plasma,” she said.

However, last week, McKee shared a tearful photo of herself from a hospital bed at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. After admitting herself with high blood pressure and a headache on Friday, she found out she was one again positive for COVID-19 four months after her initial diagnosis.

"I was floored when it was positive," McKee said.

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Doctors are not sure why the virus sometimes reemerges — or if it is contagious the second time around. Some experts say that a second positive test could just mean that the virus is taking its time to leave the body, but that it can't infect others.

"It's possible that people could shed remnants of the virus for some period of time. That doesn't mean anything is wrong with them or that they are contagious," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told NBC 5.

Similarly, Dr. Ania Wajnberg, associate director of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told the outlet that they are finding that second positives are not strands of live virus.

"What we're finding more and more is that the fragments of virus that are being picked up on these swabs weeks later are not able to replicate," she said. "They're not live virus."

Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at UT Southwestern, added that while it is obviously possible to get coronavirus twice, it appears to be a rare occurrence.

In McKee's case, her doctors believe that the virus simply went dormant after her first bout of illness, a theory backed by Dr. Benjamin Neuman, a virologist and the head of the biology department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.

Neuman told Healthline that he believes a second positive test is not necessarily a reactivation of the virus but rather a resurgence.

The virologist thinks people are probably “being discharged with some virus still in them, and then the disease returns.”

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