Israeli doctor diagnosed with COVID-19 three months after apparently recovering

TV report says medical worker at Sheba Medical Center first contracted coronavirus in April, had tested negative in May and June

Medical personal at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan are seen in the hospital's coronavirus ward on June 30, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Medical personal at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan are seen in the hospital's coronavirus ward on June 30, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A doctor at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus this month after recovering from a previous bout of COVID-19 in April, despite a growing body of evidence countering fears that recovered coronavirus patients aren’t immune even immediately after recovery.

According to a Channel 13 report Thursday, the unnamed medical professional contracted the virus in April during the initial coronavirus outbreak. Subsequent tests in May and June showed she no longer had the virus but after coming into contact with a COVID-19 carrier this month, she again tested positive.

The network said that this was the second time when someone at Sheba tested positive for coronavirus after apparently recovering, citing a case of a patient who had recovered and was subsequently readmitted with pneumonia.

The topic of coronavirus antibodies and immunity is fraught with uncertainty. There have been reports of people possibly becoming reinfected with the virus soon after recovery, though there is speculation these could be issues related to testing. There are also concerns that while some patients generate antibodies, others may not.

Sheba Medical Center staff at the coronavirus isolation ward in Ramat Gan, June 30, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Earlier this month, two staffers at Wolfson Medical Center’s COVID-19 ward who had contracted the virus were found to be antibody free, causing concerns that some recovered COVID-19 patients may not have any immunity.

“It is worrying [to consider] why they don’t have antibodies,” Margarita Mashavi, head of internal medicine at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, said at the time, adding that as antibodies give protection against reinfection, she is concerned it may mean they aren’t immune.

On July 2, researchers at Tel Aviv University announced they had determined that everyone who gets coronavirus has antibodies for at least two months, saying this offers some reassurance on the worryingly uncertain topic of immunity.

The Health Ministry, with the cooperation of the country’s health maintenance organizations, launched a program in late June to carry out tens of thousands of serological tests aimed at determining the extent of the population’s exposure to the coronavirus.

The tests can identify antibodies to the coronavirus, which can be present in the blood of those who caught the virus but did not develop any symptoms.

Illustrative: Red blood cells alongside antibodies in an artery (urfinguss; iStock by Getty Images)

Even without reinfection, however, the effects of COVID-19 can linger long after the virus runs its course.

Recovered COVID patients have baffled doctors with complaints of freak pains, lungs that just won’t get back to normal, and a range of incapacitating psychological issues.

“What we are seeing is very frightening,” Prof. Gabriel Izbicki of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center told The Times of Israel last month. “More than half the patients, weeks after testing negative, are still symptomatic.”

“There is very little research about the mid-term affect of coronavirus,” he said, adding that it is much needed to guide doctors.

Nathan Jeffay contributed to this report.

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