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Russian virologist infected himself with COVID-19 twice: why does he need it

Scientists from all over the world are working on a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 in the hope of overcoming this disease for a long time. Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor-Virologist Alexander Chepurno conducted his own experiment, which proved that it is possible to become infected with coronavirus disease for the second time, and humanity is unlikely to be able to develop collective immunity. More details about the experiment told the publication MKRU.

Photo: Shutterstock

He contracted COVID-19 in February, now he contracted it again, but this time on purpose.

In the Novosibirsk center of virology and biotechnology "Vector" Alexander Chepurnov headed the laboratory of especially dangerous viral infections, worked with Ebola, and now is a leading researcher at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine of the SB RAS.

At the end of February, the professor went to Switzerland to ski in the Alps. The flight from Novosibirsk involved a transfer in Moscow. At Sheremetyevo airport, a group of Chinese walked in front of him. And two days later, returning from the ski slope, Alexander Chepurnov felt a sore throat, cutting pains in his chest, and fever. At first, the professor thought that he was blown on the slope. The vacation had to be interrupted.

At Moscow airports, tests were not done to anyone then. Already at home, in Novosibirsk, the doctors diagnosed Alexander with bilateral pneumonia. There was also a loss of smell, but there was no runny nose. He was treated in isolation from relatives and friends in the country.

“At that time, a laboratory appeared in our institute where it was possible to carry out PCR tests for coronavirus, which were highly accurate,” Chepurnov says. - We have in our hands samples of patients with COVID-19. We isolated the virus, thought that now we would quickly make an inactivated, killed vaccine and vaccinate everyone. But they faced a problem, the so-called phenomenon of antibody-dependent intensification of infection, that is, a strong infection of vaccinated people when they encounter a real infection. There was no one to check him on. Monkeys were needed, and in order to work with primates, appropriate conditions were required. "

Then the scientist decided to test the vaccine on himself, but, as it turned out later, he already had antibodies to the virus in his blood.

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“Then it became clear that I was generally not fit to test my own vaccine. An antibody test and Western blot analysis showed that I was already infected with the coronavirus, and I had antibodies to COVID-19. At first I thought impudently, why bother to take care of yourself, to protect yourself, since you had already been ill? But by the end of the third month since the onset of the disease, antibodies were no longer detected in the blood, ”the scientist said.

And although information about re-infections has been circulating almost since the beginning of the pandemic, at that time this data was questioned.

“We thought it was a mistake in diagnosis or are people with immunodeficiency re-catching the infection? When my antibodies to coronavirus disappeared, we decided to look at the factors of cellular immunity that determine the main protection against the disease. The immunogram was very good. That is, I could not have been classified as an immunodeficient person, ”Chepurnov shares.

At that moment, he came up with the idea to check for himself whether re-infection with COVID-19 is possible.

“It’s interesting. First, there was a huge difference between what I did before. Because with Ebola hemorrhagic fever you can't fool around, but with coronavirus it seems to be already possible. It was important to understand how much immunity is enough after being ill, what is its duration, - says the virologist. - Since I constantly work with the virus, at some point I had an idea, why not relax the precautions and understand what will happen in 4 months, in 5 months, in six months? When communicating with patients, I did not wear a mask. To assess the reaction of the body, I took tests every two weeks. "

It is difficult for a doctor to avoid contact with infected people, especially during a pandemic, which is why Chepurnov did not have to specifically look for patients.

“On duty, I periodically took samples in the infectious diseases departments of hospitals. There he communicated with patients. But where and how it happened, we do not advertise, so as not to let anyone down. Of course, no one bothered us to make dosed intratrachial infection (through a tube inserted into the trachea). But this is already an experiment, it is difficult to apply this situation in life, because the method of infection plays a colossal role, ”the scientist shares.

The doctor also suggested that the coronavirus works in the same way as the flu.

“Experiments with aerosols were carried out 30 years ago. On influenza, it was shown that a finely dispersed influenza aerosol got into the lower parts of the lungs of mice, and the disease, developing, was fatal. A coarse aerosol was deposited in the upper respiratory tract, the mice were sick, but survived. Therefore, the method of infection can be completely critical, and it would be wrong to use laboratory, and not household methods of infection, ”says Chepurnov.

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In September, he realized that the goal had been achieved - he contracted the coronavirus for the second time.

“On September 28th there was exactly the same sore throat as the first time. On the 29th, I did nasopharyngeal swabs, and immediately the PCR test confirmed that I had coronavirus. There was the 27th cycle, which is not very much, but it was a signal. And two days later I already had the 17th cycle, which corresponded to the already high level of viral load. I lost my sense of smell, my taste perception changed. That is, the protection fell exactly six months after the first illness, ”the scientist explains.

The course of the disease was not very easy for the virologist, he even had to go to the hospital.

“Every three days, samples were taken from me, the course of the disease was not alarming at first. So I just sat at home. Then the high temperature rose, reaching +39, +39, 5, and stopped going astray with paracetamol. Three days later, of course, I was tired. It so happened that I was unsuccessfully bought a pulse oximeter device for determining the level of oxygen in the blood. He showed underestimated values ​​- 93%. It became clear when the ambulance arrived and the doctor measured my oxygen saturation with his device. The doctor offered to decide for himself whether to stay at home for treatment or go to the hospital. I decided to go to the hospital anyway, ”Chepurnov recalls.

In the hospital, he saw with his own eyes how the situation with the patients is and how doctors cope with it.

“I ended up in the city clinical hospital №12. At first they said that they would have to lie down in the corridor, but then, however, there was a place in the ward. In the hall, where there used to be a TV set, beds were placed behind the screens, where patients were periodically placed, but then they were transferred to the vacant seats. Oxygen support was the most important point. There was an oxygen distribution post near each bed on the wall, which is critical in the midst of an illness. But most importantly, the doctors were intelligent and attentive. Even before hospitalization, I had a CT scan on the 6th day, everything was normal. And three days later, when I got to the hospital, an X-ray showed bilateral pneumonia, ”says the virologist.

“The oxygen support was an important point. I could not lie for a long time in the prone position on my stomach, thanks to which more oxygen enters the lungs and it passes into the blood better. And many even slept in this position. I used an oxygen mask for three days. Then I realized that I could do without her. To make the lungs work, he began to do breathing exercises. In addition to oxygen, he received antibiotics, anticoagulants and hormones, ”Chepurnov shares his experience.

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According to the scientist, the second time the disease was much more severe than the first.

“I had a high temperature for five days. For three days I suffered from a strong, unproductive cough that could not be stopped. I was sick much more seriously than the first time. And you know, what is surprising: in the midst of the disease, when I was especially ill, they took a test that showed a negative result. Then, somehow abruptly, and everything was gone. I already felt good, - Chepurnov is surprised. - The second test three days later was also negative. And I already had reason to talk with the doctor about the discharge. But in three out of five people in our ward, the first test was negative, and the second was doubtful. And so on several times. "

“They were glad to leave, had already been ill, were in an acceptable condition, wanted to free up the places that were so required for new patients. But they couldn't. Such is the serious bureaucratic problem. Or a flaw in the manufacturer of test systems. One patient was then sent to a military hospital for follow-up treatment. Another, so that the whole family would not be quarantined at home, was isolated in the country. I spent 10 days in the hospital, ”says the virologist.

Now, to recover, he is doing breathing exercises and continues to check the level of antibodies in the blood.

“I have a balloon on my table, I'm inflating it. I also do breathing exercises according to Strelnikova. My colleagues and I will continue to monitor how quickly my antibodies go away. Now the antibody titer is represented by a very high level of immunoglobulins G. To the maximum that can be determined, ”says the scientist.

He is convinced that it is now clearly clear that there will be no collective immunity to the coronavirus.

“Although great hopes were pinned on this. In addition, it is necessary to look at how long the post-vaccination immunity will be. Vaccinations have already begun. In practice, we will see the duration of the protective effect. It is possible that you will need to be vaccinated repeatedly, say, once every six months, a year, depending on how long the protective immunity will be. And for this we will need another vaccine, ”concluded the virologist.

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