An elderly woman (89) from the Netherlands has become the world’s first person to die after contracting COVID-19 twice. According to experts, this has raised questions about immunity and how long antibodies developed against the virus by the body after an initial infection actually last.
The woman also suffered from a rare bone marrow cancer called Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia. Her immune system had been compromised by the cell-depleting therapy she was receiving against her cancer.
According to researchers from the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, however, her immune response should still have been sufficient enough to fight off the coronavirus infection. When she had tested positive for COVID-19 the first time, she was admitted to hospital with a severe cough and fever. She was discharged five days later as most of her symptoms had subsided – beside fatigue.
After only two days of receiving chemotherapy, and 59 days after she was admitted to hospital and initially tested positive for COVID-19, she once again developed a fever, cough and struggled to breathe. She again tested positive for COVID-19, and there were no antibodies found in her blood when she was tested on days four and six of the infection.
Her condition began to rapidly deteriorate on day eight, and she died after two weeks.
The woman had not been tested for COVID-19 between infections, so there is no way of telling whether she had one long COVID-19 infection that turned asymptomatic, or whether she was reinfected. However, when researchers examined samples of the viruses from both bouts of the woman’s illness, their genetic make-up was found to be different.
Therefore, they concluded that it was probable that the elderly woman was reinfected.
While there have been many reports of reinfection across the world, this is the first report of someone who had died after being diagnosed a second time.