More COVID-19 reinfections noted; Gaza reports first cases

In the latest global COVID-19 developments, scientists from two more countries reported instances of patients reinfected with the virus, and health officials from the highly restricted Palestinian territory of Gaza reported its first local infections.

The global total today reached 23,736,101 cases, and 815,248 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Reinfections in Belgium, Netherlands

Yesterday, researchers from Hong Kong University reported the first evidence of reinfection based on genetic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which showed the virus involved in the first infection was different than the second. Today, two virologists from Europe described apparent repeat infections, also based on comparisons of genetic sequences in the earlier and latter infections.

Marc Van Ranst, PhD, a virologist at Catholic University of Leuven in Flanders, told Belgium's VTE News yesterday that his lab team compared a patient's virus from a first infection with that of a second infection 3 months later and found that the two viruses were different by 11 mutations. The Belgian patient was sick in March and June, the Brussels Times reported.

Like the Hong Kong patient, the Belgian patient had a mild infection during the first disease source, which Van Ranst said could have mitigated the second one. He said he wouldn't be surprised to see more such cases reported in the coming days.

Also, Marion Koopmans, DVM, PhD, a virologist with Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, told NOS News, a public broadcasting outlet in the Netherlands, that a similar case has been detected in the Netherlands, also based on the identification of different viruses in the first and second infections. She said the Dutch patient is elderly and has a weakened immune system.

Koopmans said that reinfections wouldn't be surprising and occur with other respiratory viruses, but until now, there hasn't been evidence for SARS-CoV-2. She added that the question now is how long immunity lasts, adding that there are large differences in the concentrations of antibodies patients build after infection. Another question is how common reinfections are, which can be determined by following a larger group of patients for a longer time.

Gaza reports first community spread

The Palestinian territory Gaza's restricted borders, surrounded by Israel and Egypt, have prevented community spread of the virus, but the first such cases have been detected, a four-person family cluster linked to a woman who recently traveled to the West Bank, where she tested positive, Reuters reported.

An investigation found that the family had contact with several people at a refugee camp in central Gaza, which is now isolated from the rest of the territory. Health officials ordered a lockdown and are worried about conditions in Gaza that could raise the risk of spread, such as poverty, densely packed refugee camps, and limited health services.

A World Health Organization (WHO) official told Reuters that hospitals in Gaza, with a population of 2 million, have capacity to care for 350 COVID-19 patients.

Latin America hot spot trends

Cases in the Americas region are fueling the largest portion of the world's COVID-19 rise, and at a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) media briefing today, its director, Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, said cases have more than doubled since Jul 1 and that deaths have doubled in the last 6 weeks. As economies reopen, she urged countries to double down on their contact tracing and data management, with local officials having a large role in guiding targeted measures.

"In far too many places, there seems to be a disconnect between the policies being implemented and what the epidemiological curves tell us," Etienne said in her opening comments. "This is not a good sign. Wishing the virus away will not work, it will only lead to more cases, as we've seen over these past 6 weeks."

As in other parts of the world, younger people in the Americas region are driving the spread of the virus, but most deaths are in people older than 60 years, she said.

Etienne said she's concerned about a rise in infections in the Caribbean, sparked partly by the resumption of nonessential travel in the region and citizens returning home after lockdowns.

In other Latin America developments, Argentina yesterday reported a record daily high of 8,713 cases, Reuters reported. Distancing measures were recently strengthened in Buenos Aires, but the virus is now spreading to other parts of the country.

In other global COVID-19 developments:

  • India yesterday reported 60,975 new cases, marking the 18th straight day that the country has reported the world's highest total.

  • In South Africa, the continent's hot spot, cases and hospitalizations are now declining, but deaths are holding steady, the WHO African regional office said in a weekly update today. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces are the main epicenters, and levels have plateaued in Western Cape province. As cases decline in urban areas, illnesses are steadily rising in rural areas, with some hospitals under pressure.

  • In school-related developments, South Korea ordered the closure of schools in the greater Seoul area, where much of the country's recent flare-up is occurring. Most students will do online learning until Sep 11, except for high school seniors, who are preparing for their college entrance tests. Elsewhere, Scotland ordered secondary students to wear masks in corridors, communal areas, and school buses. Masks don't need to be worn in classrooms where distancing measures are in place. The move was prompted by recent WHO guidance that children aged 12 and older should wear masks like adults.

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