Story at a glance

  • The woman was being treated for a rare type of white blood cell cancer that compromised her immune system.
  • She tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year while hospitalized with a severe fever and cough. She was discharged after five days when her symptoms subsided.
  • The woman tested positive again 59 days later and died several weeks after the second diagnosis.

The first known death from a coronavirus reinfection has been reported in the Netherlands. 

A paper accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases details the death of an 89-year-old Dutch woman who has become the first known person to die after contracting COVID-19 twice. 


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Researchers from Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands said the woman also suffered from a rare type of bone marrow cancer called Waldenström's macroglobulinemia, a rare type of white blood cell cancer that compromised her immune system. 

The unidentified woman was initially admitted into a hospital earlier this year with a severe cough and fever and tested positive for COVID-19. She was discharged five days later when “besides some persisting fatigue her symptoms subsided completely,” according to the research. 

But 59 days later, she developed fever and a cough and had difficulty breathing before testing positive a second time. Two tests for coronavirus antibodies both came back negative. 

The second diagnosis came just two days after the woman’s latest round of chemotherapy to treat her cancer. 

“At day 8, the condition of the patient deteriorated. She died two weeks later,” the study states. 

Researchers said that the woman had not been tested in between her two positive diagnoses, but noted the genetic makeup of the two viruses differed. 

“It is likely that the second episode was a reinfection rather than prolonged shedding,” the study said. 

The research comes as a 25-year-old Nevada man has been confirmed to be the first case of reinfection in North America. Researchers determined the patient was in fact infected on two separate occasions after finding significant genetic differences between the viruses responsible for each infection. 

Like the elderly Dutch woman, the man experienced a more severe case of COVID-19 the second time around, but he was able to fully recover. 

There have been at least 23 confirmed cases of reinfection worldwide. The instances of reinfection raise questions about how long people are protected from the virus after their initial infection. 


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Published on Oct 13, 2020