Russia’s top doctor has accused a senior virologist of faking infecting himself twice with coronavirus, after the man made a series of alarmist claims about a ‘wave of reinfections’ sweeping across Russia.
Dr Anna Popova, head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare – which is taking the lead in tackling coronavirus – hit out at professor Alexander Chepurnov after he said the country was facing a ‘wave of mass reinfections’.
Chepurnov, 69, accidentally contracted coronavirus on a skiing holiday in Italy and – when he recovered – claims he deliberately exposed himself to it again as a guinea pig.
He says he has recovered from his second bout of the disease but is demanding an urgent study of people catching it twice.
Dr Popva said: ‘Alexander Chepurnov is an elderly man, and I can only pass him my wishes for good health.
‘To expose himself to patients while not wearing a mask is anyway nonsense for a doctor, regardless of whether he was sick in the past or not.
‘We have investigated this situation and were unable to find evidence that this was actually a re-infection.’
Chepurnov is accusing the Russian authorities of failing to take seriously the risk of people twice suffering Covid-19 a few months apart, and claims hopes of herd immunity are overblown.
This is an incredibly important issue, and we must investigate it,’ said Dr Chepurnov, senior researcher at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Novosibirsk.
‘I might be completely wrong, and these were indeed just (a few) individual cases.
‘Or possibly I am right, and we are about to face a wave of mass reinfections.’
He has since insisted he has documentary evidence of his first and second infections.
‘I am afraid that Anna Popova is mistaken,’ he said.
Russia’s health minister Mikhail Murashko also contradicted Dr Popova to say that there had been reinfection cases.
Dr Chepurnov said that his personal experiment showed he had antibodies for three months after his first infection, after which they reduced.
‘My body’s defences fell exactly six months after I got the first infection,’ he said.
‘The first sign was a sore throat.’
His second infection was far more serious and he was hospitalised.
‘For five days, my temperature remained above 39C,’ he said.
‘I lost the sense of smell, my taste perception changed.
‘On the sixth day of the illness, the CT scan of the lungs was clear, and three days after the scan, the X-ray showed double pneumonia.’
He said: ‘The virus went away rather quickly.
‘After two weeks it was no longer detected in the nasopharyngeal or in other samples.’
The professor formerly worked at State Research Vector Centre of Virology and Biotechnology in Siberia, makers of Russia’s second vaccine against Covid-19 known as EpiVacCorona.
Covid immunity is thought to come from a high level of T-cells which are a key part of the body’s immune system.
The cells are vital for destroying human cells that have been infected with coronavirus to stop them going on to infect others – antibodies and other parts of the immune system can’t get to the virus once it gets this far in.
Until now much of scientists’ attention has been focused on antibodies, which neutralise a virus before it enters the body’s cells.
T-cells, in comparison, target and destroy cells that are already infected by the virus.
Research has indicated that high levels of T-cells can make someone immune for many months and even years.
Researchers at La Jolla Institute in California found that levels of immune cells to COVID-19 slowly start to decline in the months following infection but sufficient amounts linger to block re-infection – perhaps for years.
Antibodies come in several types, the first of which appears within a day or two of infection, the second of which usually starts to ramp up over the course of one to three weeks following infection.
They also decline after that period, but that doesn’t mean that the body forgets how to make more of them.
The ‘memory’ blueprint is stored in B cells and T cells.
B cells become specialized factories to pump out antibodies.
T cells come in two forms: one that group that works alongside B cells to manufacture the right antibodies to fight a given pathogen and a second type that acts like an assassin, killing off once-healthy cells that have become infected, so that they can’t help a virus, bacterium or even cancer spread elsewhere.