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The Rate Of Recovery From Coronavirus Is High, But Can You Be Infected Twice?

While the number of deaths from the coronavirus continues to rise globally, countries around the world are reporting that the majority of people infected with COVID-19 have been able to make successful recoveries.

But with the potential of the disease turning into a global pandemic, the high recovery rate has prompted new questions around the risk of re-infection.

So far there has been one reported case of re-infection globally.

A woman, working as a tour bus guide in Japan, tested positive a second time to the virus after appearing to recover from an earlier infection, local government authorities said last week.

While there haven't been any other confirmed cases of re-infection, some international health experts say it's not entirely out of the question and it may be too early to tell how exactly the virus spreads.

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But Program Director of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland in Griffith University, Professor Nigel McMillan said the case in Japan was "very unusual".

"I suspect, given it's a single report this would be very unusual behaviour and I think that the jury's still out on that one," McMillan told 10 daily.

"For all other coronaviruses, infection and recovery gives you lifelong immunity from re-infection," he explained.

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Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott who specialises in the spread and control of infectious diseases at the University of Sydney's Centre for International Security Studies agrees.

Kamradt-Scott said while there is always a risk that people can be exposed to a virus a second time, it's not very likely.

"In most circumstances, unless people have a compromised immune system, they develop the antibodies to fight off the infection," he explained.

"So they've already got the tools they need internally to fight off any reinfections."

Image: Getty

McMillan said it was important for countries to now focus on stopping the spread of the infection.

He said developments this week which saw the first cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus in Australia were not unexpected, and so far border control policies had sought to delay it for as long as possible.

"Now we move to our next phase of response which is to isolate those individuals, to do contact tracing and routes of infection, and basically stop the spread," McMillan said.

"Once you can limit (human-to-human) transmission, it will die out essentially in that cohort and we keep doing that for as long as possible."

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McMillan explained that this was similar to how SARS was contained, because patients would be isolated, meaning the virus couldn't spread itself.

Kamradt-Scott said the world was "very lucky" with SARS because it was a difficult virus to contract in the first place.

"It was able to be contained through quarantine and isolation within four months of it spreading internationally," he said.

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McMillan said while the eventual creation of a vaccine to protect from coronavirus could be useful for some, it was important to remember that for 95 percent of people, becoming infected with the virus would only cause quite mild flu symptoms.

"What we would do if we had a vaccine would first of all be to vaccinate first responders, healthcare workers and the elderly," he said.

"The ones that are the most vulnerable have the highest fatality rate."

Image: Getty

"Also those that have chronic medical conditions they would have trouble with a coronavirus infection too, so you would want them to have it first."

But while the vaccine could be as many as 18 months away, McMillan said people need to get their flu shots early this year, ahead of the upcoming flu season.

"This is going to be with us for the next few months, so we are not going to have a tsunami of cases tomorrow, it will be a slow burn," he said.

"It looks like both coronavirus and the flu season will collide at the same time, so the sooner everyone, particularly those that are vulnerable, gets vaccinated, the better."