ST. LOUIS, Mo. — It’s never a good day to find out you have COVID-19, but a new study finds there is likely a silver lining to contracting the virus. Researchers say patients with mild cases of coronavirus still have antibodies protecting them from reinfection nearly a year later. In fact, a team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis believes this protection from COVID will likely last for the rest of their lives.
Researchers explain that initial reports claiming COVID antibodies fade away quickly after an infection did not have all the facts. Their findings reveal that although the number of immune cells making antibodies drops once the patient is healthy, they never totally go away.
“Last fall, there were reports that antibodies wane quickly after infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and mainstream media interpreted that to mean that immunity was not long-lived,” says senior author Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an associate professor of pathology and immunology, medicine, and molecular microbiology, in a university release.
“But that’s a misinterpretation of the data. It’s normal for antibody levels to go down after acute infection, but they don’t go down to zero; they plateau. Here, we found antibody-producing cells in people 11 months after first symptoms. These cells will live and produce antibodies for the rest of people’s lives. That’s strong evidence for long-lasting immunity.”
Ellebedy adds that COVID antibody production is naturally sky-high while people deal with the virus. After the infection clears, these specialized immune cells (long-lived plasma cells) move to the bone marrow. Once they settle in there, they start churning out low levels of COVID antibodies to help protect against reinfection.