Megan Kent, 37, a medical speech pathologist who lives just outside Boston, first tested positive for the virus on March 30, after her boyfriend became ill. She couldn’t smell or taste anything, she recalled, but otherwise felt fine. After a 14-day quarantine, she went back to work at Melrose Wakefield Hospital and also helped out at a nursing home.
On May 8, Ms. Kent suddenly felt ill. “I felt like a Mack truck hit me,” she said. She slept the whole weekend and went to the hospital on Monday, convinced she had mononucleosis. The next day she tested positive for the coronavirus — again. She was unwell for nearly a month, and has since learned she has antibodies.
“This time around was a hundred times worse,” she said. “Was I reinfected?”
There are other, more plausible explanations for what Ms. Kent experienced, experts said. “I’m not saying it can’t happen. But from what I’ve seen so far, that would be an uncommon phenomenon,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Ms. Kent may not have fully recovered, even though she felt better, for example. The virus may have secreted itself into certain parts of the body — as the Ebola virus is known to do — and then resurfaced. She did not get tested between the two positives, but even if she had, faulty tests and low viral levels can produce a false negative.
Given these more likely scenarios, Dr. Mina had choice words for the physicians who caused the panic over reports of reinfections. “This is so bad, people have lost their minds,” he said. “It’s just sensationalist click bait.”
In the early weeks of the pandemic, some people in China, Japan and South Korea tested positive twice, sparking similar fears.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated 285 of those cases, and found that several of the second positives came two months after the first, and in one case 82 days later. Nearly half of the people had symptoms at the second test. But the researchers were unable to grow live virus from any of the samples, and the infected people hadn’t spread the virus to others.