As a science journalist, I’ve read dozens of research papers about COVID-19, and I’ve interviewed so many virologists, infectious disease physicians, and immunologists over the past two years that I’ve lost count. But nothing prepared me for what happened after my 7-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks ago.
It started out the way you might expect: On a Sunday evening, my daughter got a fever. The next morning, we received an email stating that she had been in touch with coronavirus At school on Friday. I gave him a rapid antigen test, which soon came out positive. I resigned myself to the possibility that the whole family was, after all, about to get COVID-19.
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But we didn’t – not at all. I, for one, never evolved symptoms or test positive, The day my daughter first tested positive, my 11-year-old son announced he was not feeling well and began developing classic coronavirus symptoms: headache, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose. My husband followed two days later with a sore throat and stuffy nose. Yet despite daily testing for seven days straight, my husband and son never tested positive for COVID-19 – including a PCR test on the fifth day of my son’s symptoms and my husband’s on the third day. (And yes, we did some throat swabs, too.)
We scoured our minds to see what could have happened: Did my husband and son get COVID even though they never tested positive? Or did they have another virus that caused similar symptoms and infect them right after being exposed to COVID-19? (Our pediatrician said it was unlikely.) Why didn’t I get sick at all? I called specialists in immunology, microbiology and virology for their take.
Vaccination changes how your body reacts to the virus.
One of the first questions experts asked me was whether I had a family Vaccination, Yes, I said: My husband and I have been vaccinated and boosted, and our kids have been vaccinated but not boosted yet. This is a pertinent question, because if you are exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, “your immune system acts much faster if you are vaccinated versus not vaccinated,” says Johns. Gigi Gronwall, an immunologist at the Hopkins Center for Health Protection in Baltimore. And this rapid response changes everything about what happens next.
First, the rapid immune response slows down the rate of viral reproduction and spread. “That’s what vaccines are for — to educate your immune system so that it jumps on invaders before they’re able to get out of control,” Gronwall said. Juliette Morrison said, because the virus doesn’t spread rapidly among vaccinated people, they may be less likely to test positive for COVID-19 after being exposed to the coronavirus, as their immune system “reduces the viral load.” below the detection level.” Microbiologist at the University of California, Riverside.
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Then, it is possible that my husband and son caught COVID-19 but were vaccinated Defence system cleared the infection so well that they never had enough viral protein in their nose or throat to test positive. And their negative tests probably meant they were never contagious, Morrison said.
Still, my husband and son followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say that if you’ve been vaccinated, you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and developed symptoms, but the test negative, you should continue to wear a mask around others. for 10 days. Actually, people who had symptoms in the house were out of public for seven days. I ran a few errands, but when I did, I wore an N95 or KF94 mask if I was doing an incubation infection,
To reduce spread among family members, we opened the windows, ate outside and wore masks around each other when I remembered – but I’ll be honest and admit that after several days our precautions were eased , especially once my husband and son developed symptoms. ,
You can still feel sick when the virus is under control.
If my husband and son never tested positive, why did they feel sick? Experts tell me that even if a vaccinated person doesn’t have much of the virus, they can still have powerful COVID symptoms. This is because many symptoms of illness – Fever, malaise, runny nose, fatigue – are actually caused by an immune system response to the virus, not the virus, Gronwall said.
And about why I felt good, Morrison said that maybe my immune system fought off the oncoming virus so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to feel sick.
“It sounds to me like you were definitely exposed,” Morrison told me. But, she explained, maybe I had a higher level of vaccines. Antibodies Or immune cells called T cells, which were able to kill the invading virus before it had a chance to alert the parts of my immune system that would provoke symptoms.
All this said, no one really knows what happened to me, my son or my husband.
When it comes to understanding how COVID-19 affects the body, “there are a lot of open questions,” said Raul Andino, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and people are different for many different reasons. There may be different experiences. For example, Andino said, it’s possible the virus was replicating in parts of my husband’s or my son’s body that the tests didn’t reach. Research suggests that the coronavirus can replicate in the pancreas, heart, brain, kidneys and other organs, although vaccination may reduce the chances of the virus spreading outside. respiratory system,
My family isn’t the only one who has had the bizarre experience of developing coronavirus symptoms, but has repeatedly tested negative. Andino said he and his colleagues are conducting studies in which they follow up and do repeated whole-house tests after one person in the home tested positive for COVID-19.
“What we see is exactly what you described – that some people in the household don’t test positive,” even though they have symptoms, he said. When I asked my Instagram followers if they would feel like my family, I received dozens of “yes” answers and stories that sounded like ours.
Most people with COVID-19 exposure and symptoms will eventually test positive.
The experts I spoke to also made a really important point: There’s a difference between not testing positive and not testing positive yet. My husband and son continued to test themselves for a week after they developed symptoms, so my sources said it was unlikely they were ever going to test positive. But many people test only for a few days and, hopelesslyYou cannot draw a clear conclusion from just a few negative tests.
As I said earlier, when people are vaccinated against COVID-19, their immune system quickly becomes ready to fight it, and they often develop symptoms before unvaccinated People do – a few days before they can test positive. So when people get tested only a few days after they develop symptoms, their negative results don’t mean they don’t have COVID-19. Yet some people at that point assume they do not have coronavirus and stop taking precautions.
“They can rest Mitigation measures when they are still shedding considerable virus,” Gronwall said.
Given these findings, Gronwall said that, ideally, people who have had two or three doses of the vaccine should be tested once they begin to develop symptoms, but not four or three after symptoms. Continuing to test on day five, as tests that come back negative before that can be false reassurances. , However, to do this, you must have access to a lot of tests. Thankfully, you can now get a third round of free COVID-19 testing through the US government, and there may be free testing sites near you, too.
As far as our family is concerned, all have made a full recovery now. the secret of what Known Our house continues to eat away at me, but it is more than my relief that we had such a mild experience – and for that, we have our COVID-19 vaccines to thank.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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