Repeat COVID-19 infections are 'Russian roulette': study

Repeat COVID-19 infections contribute significant additional risk of adverse health outcomes, including hospitalization and death, according to findings published Nov. 10 in Nature Medicine.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare database, researchers built a cohort of 443,588 people with one COVID-19 infection, 40,947 people who had been infected at least twice, and a noninfected control group of more than 5.3 million people. Data for the study was pulled from March 1, 2020, through April 6, 2022. 

Overall, people with reinfections were twice as likely to die and three times more likely to be hospitalized compared to those who had only been infected once. Repeat infections also raised the risk for complications in various organ systems — such as heart issues and brain conditions — both during acute illness and longer term. Reinfection raised the risk for adverse health outcomes regardless of vaccination status, according to the findings. 

"Getting it a second time is almost like you’re trying your chance again with Russian roulette," Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, study author and chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, told The Washington Post. "You may have dodged a bullet the first time, but each time you get the infection you are trying your luck again." Dr. Al-Aly is also a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis. 


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