Prior Presumed Coronavirus Infection Reduces COVID-19 Risk: A Cohort Study


BACKGROUND Immunological cross-reactivity between common cold coronaviruses (CCC) and SARS-CoV-2 might account for the reduced incidence of COVID-19 in children. Evidence to support speculation includes in vitro evidence for humoral and cellular cross-reactivity with SARS-CoV-2 in specimens obtained before the pandemic started. METHOD We used retrospective health insurance enrollment records, claims, and laboratory results to assemble a cohort of 869,236 insured individuals who had a PCR test for SARS-CoV-2. We estimated the effects of having clinical encounters for various diagnostic categories in the year preceding the study period on the risk of a positive test result. FINDINGS After adjusting for age, gender and care seeking behavior, we identified that individuals with diagnoses for common cold symptoms, including acute sinusitis, bronchitis, or pharyngitis in the preceding year had a lower risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 (OR=0.76, 95%CI=0.75, 0.77). No reduction in the odds of a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 was seen in individuals under 18 years. The reduction in odds in adults remained stable for four years but was strongest in those with recent common cold symptoms. INTERPRETATION While this study cannot attribute this association to cross-immunity resulting from a prior CCC infection, it is one potential explanation. Regardless of the cause, the reduction in the odds of being infected by SARS-CoV-2 among those with a recent diagnosis of common cold symptoms may have a role in shifting future COVD-19 infection patterns from endemic to episodic.

Journal of Infection
Dvir Aran
Dvir Aran

Computational Biologist, analyzing single-cell RNA-seq and clinical data in cancer and other diseases.