Doctors warn about falsely labeled COVID-19 “re-infection” cases

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On October 12th, The Lancet Infectious Diseases published an article describing the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection in the United States.

According to the report, a 25-year-old man from Nevada who had no known immune disorders was confirmed positive for the virus in April and recovered in quarantine, testing negative twice.

Then, 48 days after his initial diagnosis, he tested positive once again. He later tested negative twice before testing positive again 48 days after his initial diagnosis.

Ned Legare contacted News 2 after hearing about the reported case in Nevada. The Charleston man said he had been diagnosed with the virus twice in just over five months.

According to South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) documents, Legare first tested positive for the virus in March.

“I told my wife I was feeling kinda weird and two hours later it hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said.
“Fever, chills, I couldn’t do anything,” he continued.

At the time of his diagnosis, Charleston County only had four reported cases of the virus.

“I kinda of felt lucky at first that I was one of the first and I was immune. [I thought] I was big and bad and I could go out there an do it.” he said. “But I was one of the first to be wearing a mask but apparently it didn’t help me because other people are not wearing theirs,” he added.

In late August, Legare fell ill again with what he thought was a sinus infection. After two failed rounds of antibiotics, Legare tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Legare, his doctor said that he had likely been reinfected.

But Dr. Scott Curry with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) disagrees; he worries doctors are falsely telling patients they have been reinfected.

Dr. Curry, who focuses on Epidemiology, said confirming reinfection is highly complicated because of RNA shedding. He said many patients hold onto the virus resulting in positive tests long after they have recovered and are not contagious anymore.

In short, the second positive test may not denote a new or additional infection, but rather lingering virus from the first infection.

“We know now that if you keep testing people with the Coronavirus they will keep coming up positive for up to 5 and half months and counting,” Dr. Curry said.

Curry, who has looked into hundreds of alleged reinfection cases, said patients suffering from other respiratory viruses are sent out the door following a positive COVID-19 test, but little is done to check for other viruses.

Curry looked into Legare’s case following News 2’s story and believes Legare falsely tested positive in March.

Until more research is done, Dr. Curry said people have err on the side of caution.

“There are viruses out there where if you get [it] a second time the are worse that time around so we don’t know what reinfection will look like. You don’t want to be the pioneer,” he said.