COVID-19 re-infection by a phylogenetically distinct SARS-coronavirus-2 strain confirmed by whole genome sequencing

Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Aug 25;ciaa1275. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1275. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Waning immunity occurs in patients who have recovered from COVID-19. However, it remains unclear whether true re-infection occurs.

Methods: Whole genome sequencing was performed directly on respiratory specimens collected during two episodes of COVID-19 in a patient. Comparative genome analysis was conducted to differentiate re-infection from persistent viral shedding. Laboratory results, including RT-PCR Ct values and serum SARS-CoV-2 IgG, were analyzed.

Results: The second episode of asymptomatic infection occurred 142 days after the first symptomatic episode in an apparently immunocompetent patient. During the second episode, there was serological evidence of elevated C-reactive protein and SARS-CoV-2 IgG seroconversion. Viral genomes from first and second episodes belong to different clades/lineages. Compared to viral genomes in GISAID, the first virus genome has a stop codon at position 64 of orf8 leading to a truncation of 58 amino acids, and was phylogenetically closely related to strains collected in March/April 2020, while the second virus genome was closely related to strains collected in July/August 2020. Another 23 nucleotide and 13 amino acid differences located in 9 different proteins, including positions of B and T cell epitopes, were found between viruses from the first and second episodes.

Conclusions: Epidemiological, clinical, serological and genomic analyses confirmed that the patient had re-infection instead of persistent viral shedding from first infection. Our results suggest SARS-CoV-2 may continue to circulate among the human populations despite herd immunity due to natural infection or vaccination. Further studies of patients with re-infection will shed light on protective correlates important for vaccine design.

Keywords: COVID-19; D614G; SARS-CoV-2; re-infection; whole genome sequencing.