Australia: COVID 14 times??!!

Australia: COVID 14 times??!!

When will they get it? Will they EVER get it?

Anne and her family have now caught COVID 14 times. Here’s the latest advice

Some people in Australia have now had COVID-19 three or more times each. With cases set to rise during Australia’s winter and booster rates dropping off, here’s the latest advice.

Anne Fletcher and her family have come down with COVID-19 a total of 14 times between them.

“I’ve had it three times confirmed, my husband’s had it four, I have two children who had it three times each, and a baby who’s had it once confirmed,” she said.

The family is not alone. On internet forums including Reddit, users share stories about contracting COVID-19 three, four, and sometimes five times each.

Dr Fletcher is an immunologist at a university in Victoria and her husband is in the police. The first time the family became unwell and tested positive was in 2022 during the first week of the school term.

“We all fell like dominoes,” Dr Fletcher said.
For Dr Fletcher, the clearest explanation for why her family have contracted COVID-19 multiple times is, in her words, her “germy children”. The children are now aged nine, seven and one.

But her husband believes he caught it once at work despite wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE), and the family also got sick when travelling overseas.

“It’s generally about a three-month gap [between infections], pretty much on the dot,” Dr Fletcher said.
“A few of us got it from the same event. And that was, to be honest, really awful,” she said.

The second time she caught it, she was overseas. She initially put her exhaustion down to jetlag and overexertion, but then she experienced chest soreness.

“I didn’t even think to test. It was only when I was doing a hike in Italy and I was walking up a hill and I had a sore chest, which wasn’t a symptom I had the first time.”

She took a test, which came up “instantly positive”.

Both Dr Fletcher and Ms Brown are vaccinated, as is Dr Fletcher’s family.

Is there a scientific explanation for getting COVID-19 multiple times?

Professor Stuart Tangye is a faculty and lab head at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and a conjoint professor with the Faculty of Medicine and Health at UNSW.

He said it’s hard to pin down exactly why some people seem more susceptible to COVID-19, but there are some clues.

Part of the answer may come from studying patients with rare diseases and then extrapolating those findings to the wider population.
“Basically what that told us was, antibodies were really important,” he said.

“They weren’t directly necessary to give you that early protection against infection. Your T cells probably did a very good job of that. But the antibodies were really important for maintaining protection, controlling the viral infection and giving you that longer tail of protection.”

“There was lots of indications that you do need this really good antibody response.”

Getting COVID-19 does give you some protection from reinfection, Professor Tangye noted, but like colds and other coronaviruses, different 

 can “outsmart” our immune systems by changing slightly.

How can you protect yourself against COVID-19?

With COVID-19 cases expected to rise during the Australian winter months due to more indoor mixing, Professor Tangye said a combination of pharmacological interventions including vaccines and practises like social distancing, hygiene and masking are the best way of protecting yourself.

Booster doses are currently available for all adults in Australia, as well as children with certain health risks or needs. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) says people in these demographics should “consider” having a booster, but take-up has dropped off.

They are particularly “recommended” for adults at higher risk of severe illness, as well as those aged over 65, but less than a third of people in that age group have had a booster in the past six months.
A graph showing only 31.2% of people over 65 have had a booster in the past six months.
Less than a third of people over 65 have had a booster in the past six months. Source: SBS News

“All adults can get a booster if it’s been six months or longer since their last COVID-19 booster or confirmed infection (whichever is most recent) for additional protection against severe illness from COVID,” the federal Department of Health advises on its website.

“Your doctor can help you decide if your child should receive a booster.”

Professor Tangye explained “not many vaccines actually stop transmission,” but ultimately, “they stop you getting sick, they keep you out of hospital, they stop you dying”.
Ms Brown said she doesn’t know anyone else who has contracted COVID-19 three times but acknowledges she may have just been testing more frequently than others.

The third time she had it, she was virtually symptomless but was testing “pretty much every day” in December as she was attending Christmas events.
Professor Tangye said throughout the pandemic there have also been asymptomatic COVID-19 cases as well as people experiencing less severe symptoms due to the vaccines.
“These days … not everyone is as vigilant at doing Rapid Antigen Tests. So there was probably a lot of undiagnosed cases,” he said.

What are the impacts of catching COVID multiple times?

Both Dr Fletcher and Ms Brown said the first time they caught COVID-19 was the worst.

“The subsequent infections were milder for sure for us,” Dr Fletcher said.

“Whether or not that was because [our] immune system has good memory [and] was fighting it faster, or whether or not it was because it was a different strain or a different infectious dose, I have no idea.

“But certainly that first infection was a doozy. And when I got it, I was like, ‘Okay, I get this. I get why people are worrying about this’. It was frightening.”
Ms Brown also described “really suffering” with exhaustion and brain fog for around two months after contracting the illness for the first time.
Professor Tangye said it is likely many people in Australia will catch COVID-19 more than once and highlighted some of the risks.

“If you get COVID-19 repeatedly, your chances of having additional problems like lung problems, heart problems, kidney problems, actually increases with each time you get COVID infection,” he said.

“[There are] some really powerful epidemiology studies showing the incidence of long-term heart disease, long-term lung disease, and so on.”

COVID-19 officially became the third leading cause of death in Australia in 2022. It killed more people than lung and colon cancer, diabetes, stroke, and lower respiratory disease, according to research by the Actuaries Institute.
Dr Fletcher does have some fears around long COVID.

“It always gives me a minute, you know, when one of us gets it … the stats are that you can get long COVID at any point,” she said.

“Just because you had it before and you were okay it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be okay this time.”
Ms Brown expects to contract it again soon, she said.

“I think it’s just a fact of life now. If it was just me getting COVID-19 then I would be completely fine with going back into the world even if I did test positive, but I just don’t want to be in a position where I’m making other people sick,” she said.

The Department of Health recommends staying home if you’re unwell, wearing a mask, physical distancing, and practising good hygiene.

It’s still recommended that you stay home if you test positive.

The latest COVID-19 booster vaccine advice and information on how to book can be found at 

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