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First confirmed coronavirus reinfection found in Hong Kong, researchers say

Researchers in Hong Kong said Monday that they have identified the first documented instance of someone being infected with coronavirus a second time.

The scientists at the University of Hong Kong said a patient got coronavirus a second time 4 1/2 months after the initial infection and that the genomic sequence of the virus strain for the first infection was different than that of the second.

"This case illustrates that reinfection can occur just after a few months of recovery from the first infection," the researchers said in a press release. "Our findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may persist in the global human population as is the case for other common-cold associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have have acquired immunity via natural infection."

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Some experts, though, said the news is not as bad as it sounds and that it is not cause for panic. For one thing, the patient did not have any symptoms in the second infection.

"This is interesting but not alarming," tweeted Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

"First, this appears to be rare," he added. "Though we don't go looking often enough so unclear. Second, person was asymptomatic during the re-infection. This is exactly what one would want to see with immunity — that you can pick up virus again but that it won't cause serious illness."

One of the major questions still circulating around coronavirus is how long immunity lasts.

"What is not completely clear yet is how strong that immune response is and for how long that immune response lasts," said Maria Van Kerkhove, an expert at the World Health Organization, when asked about the Hong Kong results during a press briefing Monday.

"We need to not jump to any conclusions," she cautioned.