If you've already had the omicron strain of COVID-19, can you get it again?
We asked three top Boston doctors this week, and the answer is... they're not 100% sure.
The doctors did their best to answer our questions during NBC10 Boston's weekly "COVID Q&A" series Tuesday.
Here's what they had to say:
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Can you get omicron more than once?
"I don't think that the data is clear," Boston Medical Center's Dr. Sabrina Assoumou said this week. "I think that what we do know is that, in general, if you get infected with a particular variant, let's say omicron right now, which is the predominant variant, and if you got infected in December, you probably got omicron, so you're wondering, you know, can I get omicron again?"
"So, you know, my, my prediction would be that for a certain period of time, probably for, you know, three months, you would have protection against omicron," she said. "But I would still recommend that you get vaccinated, that you are up to date, depending on what that means to you, depending on where you are in that cycle using the CDC definition."
"I agree," added Dr. Shira Doron, hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. "I think that one of the things that may be causing some confusion on this issue of reinfection is with the increased use of at home tests, antigen tests, there has become a bit of a confusion again about what is a PCR, what is an antigen test, repeat testing. And what's happening is with this talk of test-to-exit or testing after you've been infected with an antigen to see if you're still contagious, people have started to retest with PCRs after somebody has COVID. And you know, it took us like two years to teach people that you don't retest for the PCR after someone has COVID. And now people are doing that again because they're confusing the home test -- the antigen test -- with the PCR."
Doron said people should not retest after having COVID-19 with a PCR test for at least 90 days because they see people stay positive on the PCR tests for three or even four months. But that doesn't necessarily mean they've been reinfected.
"It's possible that you have COVID and you test positive and then you get another cold and you do a PCR again -- we see this all the time," she said. "And there are some clues that we can use to figure out that it's not a reinfection, but you know, most people don't undergo that kind of expert evaluation. And so I think there are some falsely labeled reinfections, although, you know, time will tell whether we are seeing true omicron reinfections. But that really needs to be evaluated in a rigorous manner."
Can you get omicron if you had delta, and vice versa?
"I would be less confident that you will be covered for other variants," Assoumou said of the possibility of reinfection with a different variant. "So you know, if the delta variant were to become prominent again in this country, you probably would not be as well protected against an infection from the delta variant as opposed to the omicron, so that's what I would expect right now."
But she said it's still too soon to say for certain.
"Just to be clear, I don't think that we have enough data to sort of make a clear sort of statement about what we should expect," Assoumou said.
Is the BA.2, or 'stealth omicron' variant, complicating matters?
"I agree with what Dr. Assoumou and Dr. Doron had said -- I think the only minor wrinkle is whether the you know, the BA.2 variant, if it, you know, takes hold, could conceivably reinfect people who had already had the one of the earlier omicron variants," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious disease at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "I think it's unlikely because there's so much shared similarity that minor differences are probably not enough to allow it to evade immunity to omicron, but you know, again, as everybody's been saying, time will tell. We just need a few more weeks to get a better sense."