Stanford Expert Compares COVID-19 to Other Local Viruses

Doctor talks about immunity, antibodies, possible annual vaccine for the novel coronavirus

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A number of people who became ill with upper respiratory infections in January are now wondering if they had COVID-19. And if so, would they now be immune to the coronavirus?

NBC Bay Area asked Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease expert with Stanford University. She said there are several other viruses that cause the same symptoms, and COVID-19 didn’t show up in tests until the last week of February.

So, those sick people more likely contracted one of those other local viruses. As far as whether one develops immunity once they’ve had COVID-19, right now, doctors don’t know.

"We know from the four common cold viruses, you develop immunity, but it's not long lasting," Maldonado said. "So you can get infected over and over again. So we’re thinking this is like the common cold virus, and like I said, we don’t know that for sure, and that’s a big push to figure that out. Will we need to give an annual vaccine, for example? Because this might be like the flu season. You get a flu vaccine, you get a COVID vaccine. Or something like that."

Maldonaldo added it's not hard to come up with the antibody test to see if someone’s already had COVID-19. The question is: How reliable are those test kits? And how well do they measure real immunity? That is something Stanford is working on right now. And it hopes to have a reliable antibody test within weeks, possibly months.

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