The larger coronavirus family includes the viruses that cause SARS, MERS, and the common cold. Most coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory infections, and many — including the new strain — spread to people from animals.
When a virus enters a human body, it tries to attach to and take over host cells. In response, our immune systems produce antibodies: proteins that recognize and remove viruses.
That’s how humans become immune to certain illnesses. Children that have contracted chickenpox, for example, are immune to the disease as adults. Vaccines are another way to develop immunity.
“With many infectious diseases, a person can develop immunity against a specific strain after exposure or infection,” Amira Roess, a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at George Mason University, told Business Insider. “Often, that person will not get sick again upon subsequent exposure to it. Regarding this specific strain of coronavirus, scientists are working to answer this question.”
Doctors and virologists don’t yet know enough about the Wuhan coronavirus to say whether humans develop full immunity after they’ve contracted the illness. According to Zhan, doctors aren’t sure that the antibodies patients develop are strong or long-lasting enough to keep them from contracting the disease again.
Viruses can also mutate quickly, so immunity to one strain doesn’t guarantee immunity to another.
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