What are the odds that you were exposed to COVID and just didn’t get sick?

If you’ve been on the go during the waves of COVID, you might be curious to know if you’ve come into contact with the coronavirus. Could you be one of the lucky ones who had an asymptomatic infection? Or is there still a good chance you haven’t encountered the virus yet?

Omicron sub-variants are now the dominant cases, and they spread much faster than previous variants. So if you go to places like restaurants or gyms with a group of strangers, it seems inevitable that you will be exposed at some point.

“It is really so transmissible that I think there is a good chance, depending on the community transmission rate in your area – if you have a substantial or high transmission rate in your area depending on the CDC Definitions – that you may have been exposed,” said Monica Gandhiinfectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it’s crucial to tell the difference between exposure and infection. Being exposed to or being in the presence of a virus does not necessarily mean that you will be infected or develop symptomatic illness (although some people, regardless of their vaccination status, certainly will).

The subvariants circulating now are so transmissible that if you’ve been in an area with a lot of spread — and you weren’t wearing a mask or social distancing — there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed, according to Gandhi. . When case rates increase, the likelihood of coming into contact with the virus also increases.

Chances are many of us have come across the virus before, but whether that exposure caused an infection depends on a few factors, Nuzzo said.

The first consideration is how close you were to the infected person spreading the virus. Second, the amount of virus that person was emitting, as some people spread much more virus than others. Third, what the ventilation was like – if you were exposed in a poorly ventilated room, there is a greater chance that the virus could have entered your cells. The host, or how your body handles the virus, also plays a role.

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Infection is different from exposure. Whether exposure leads to infection depends on many factors, including proper ventilation of the space.

Can you tell if you have been exposed?

It depends. Many vaccinated people who have been exposed probably wouldn’t notice it. They may have produced an immune response that successfully fought off the virus before it caused symptomatic illness. That is, after all, the purpose of vaccines.

You could being able to sense the activation of your immune system. Upon close exposure, your memory B cells will begin to vibrate and produce antibodies, Gandhi explained, and your T cells will prepare to fight. Some people may experience this immune response, which could potentially resemble some of the side effects experienced after vaccination, as these are signs that your immune system has been strengthened.

“In today’s environment, where we’re all hyper-alert to symptoms, people may feel depressed or tired,” Gandhi said.

Does exposure to COVID mean you’re better protected?

This one is complicated. Some to research suggests that exposure to infectious doses of SARS-CoV-2 enhances the immune response.

“There is known evidence that exposure to infection after receiving a dose of vaccine enhances the immune response. It makes your memory B cells produce antibodies, it makes your T cells replicate,” Gandhi said. (Those new antibodies produced by B cells, by the way, will target the new variant it sees.)

We definitely need more data on how exposures affect our immune memory. UK scientists are conducting provocation testsin which they expose healthy young adults to the coronavirus to better understand the doses that cause infection and how different people’s immune systems respond to exposure to the virus.

However, this does not means you want to get infected or get a disease. There’s really no good way to predict whether you’ll get sick, how sick you’ll get, or if you’ll develop long-term symptoms if you get sick.

This is especially true if you are unvaccinated without natural immunity to previous infection. “The advantage of being vaccinated is that you are much less likely to contract the disease, but [exposure] will boost your immune response,” Gandhi said.

Remember: the purpose of injections is to prevent serious illnesses, not all infections.

“If you’re close enough to the virus, there’s a good chance you’ll get infected,” Nuzzo said. The hope, she added, is that vaccines will prevent people from getting seriously ill. And in some cases they will prevent people from getting any disease.

The growing consensus among infectious disease specialists is that we are all going to encounter COVID at some point. Omicron and now its sub-variants, being as transmissible as they are, have been a game changer.

“I don’t think we’re going to eliminate it,” Gandhi said. “That, to me, means we are all susceptible to exposure at some point.”

And if we’re going to be exposed to COVID, it’s best to do it with some immunity. Get these shots and boosters.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but advice may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.


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