An elderly woman in the Netherlands has been identified as the first reported person to die after becoming infected with COVID-19 for a second time, according to a new study.
The 89-year-old woman — whose name has not been released — had a rare form of bone marrow cancer and tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year after going to the emergency room with “fever and severe cough,” per the study, which was published by Oxford University Press. The woman was later discharged after five days with fatigue as her only remaining symptom.
Then, 59 days after the start of her first COVID-19 infection, the woman began a new chemotherapy treatment to treat her cancer. Two days following the start of her new treatment she developed a fever, cough, and labored breathing and readmitted herself to the hospital, the study said.
She was again tested for COVID-19, where a nasal swab came back positive. However, two tests for coronavirus antibodies both came back negative.
On the eighth day, “the condition of the patient deteriorated,” before she died two weeks later the study said. Specific dates were not given.
According to researchers in the study, the elderly Dutch woman had not been tested in between her two confirmed COVID-19 cases, but they found the genetic makeup of the viruses to be different.
“It is likely that the second episode was a reinfection rather than prolonged shedding,” the study said.
The study also noted that her cancer, which was identified as a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, compromised her immune system due to the therapy.
But the researchers added that her natural immune response could have been “sufficient” enough to fight-off the respiratory illness, as the type of treatment she received for cancer “does not necessarily result in [a] life-threatening disease.”
The study also compared the woman to the 25-year-old Nevada man who was recently identified as the first confirmed case of reinfection in the United States. The study said that they both “experienced a more severe second episode.”
The resident from Washoe County, who had no history of preexisting conditions or known immune disorders, first tested positive for COVID-19 on April 18 and experienced mild symptoms, including fever, dizziness and coughing.
His symptoms abated and he tested negative twice in May, but about six weeks after his first infection, he started feeling sick again. The man went to an urgent care center at the end of May, again dealing with fever, dizziness and coughing, and tested positive in early June.
There have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 reinfection in other countries and anecdotal cases in the U.S., but this was the first definite American case. It emphasizes that immunity from COVID-19 is not certain, and even those who have recovered from the virus are at risk of contracting it again.