Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Sequence Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Persistence and Reinfection

Clin Infect Dis. 2022 Jan 29;74(2):237-245. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab380.


Background: Both severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) reinfection and persistent infection have been reported, but sequence characteristics in these scenarios have not been described. We assessed published cases of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection and persistence, characterizing the hallmarks of reinfecting sequences and the rate of viral evolution in persistent infection.

Methods: A systematic review of PubMed was conducted to identify cases of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection and persistence with available sequences. Nucleotide and amino acid changes in the reinfecting sequence were compared with both the initial and contemporaneous community variants. Time-measured phylogenetic reconstruction was performed to compare intrahost viral evolution in persistent SARS-CoV-2 to community-driven evolution.

Results: Twenty reinfection and 9 persistent infection cases were identified. Reports of reinfection cases spanned a broad distribution of ages, baseline health status, reinfection severity, and occurred as early as 1.5 months or >8 months after the initial infection. The reinfecting viral sequences had a median of 17.5 nucleotide changes with enrichment in the ORF8 and N genes. The number of changes did not differ by the severity of reinfection and reinfecting variants were similar to the contemporaneous sequences circulating in the community. Patients with persistent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) demonstrated more rapid accumulation of sequence changes than seen with community-driven evolution with continued evolution during convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibody treatment.

Conclusions: Reinfecting SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes largely mirror contemporaneous circulating sequences in that geographic region, while persistent COVID-19 has been largely described in immunosuppressed individuals and is associated with accelerated viral evolution.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; immunosuppression; persistent COVID-19; reinfection; sequence analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Serotherapy
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunization, Passive
  • Infant
  • Phylogeny
  • Reinfection
  • SARS-CoV-2*