MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
I tested positive for COVID-19 after symptoms that began two days earlier. My husband’s symptoms started the day after my test results came back, and he also tested positive. Now, four days later, he’s a bit better but still tired and coughing. Then, just this morning, our teenage son reported that he has a bad headache and has lost his sense of smell and taste, so I have no doubt he has it as well.
I’m over all my symptoms now, but I am living with one person who has started to recover and another who just got sick. Can one of them reinfect me? Can they reinfect each other? Is it possible that we could keep passing it back and forth and end up in a never-ending household quarantine?
We’ve been getting questions like this one quite frequently.
Fortunately for you and others dealing with multiple infections in the same household, the answer to all of your questions is no. Since you and your family members are almost certainly infected with the same strain of the virus, you won’t pass it around again.
It’s like the common cold, which is also a coronavirus. When you get a cold, your body creates antibodies to fight off the virus. And with those antibodies on full alert, you’re protected from reinfection for some period of time. So even if someone in your household catches your cold a few days later, and then another family member starts sneezing a few days after that, they won’t make you sick again. You’ll keep getting better, while the cold virus runs its course in your unlucky, sniffling family members.
But, note, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to be reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Research shows that people are often reinfected with the same common cold virus within 12 months. We don’t know the level of immunity a person has after recovering from COVID-19 or how long it lasts. We know that people can become reinfected. We don’t know how common it is, but it probably happens more often than we suspect.
So, the good news is that, in the short run, you won’t keep ping-ponging your current illness back and forth across your household. But once you’ve all recovered and are able to leave the house safely again, you’ll need to stay on guard against the virus. You know the drill: wear your mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands. In the meantime, take care of each other, and we hope you all get well soon!