Health officials in Bulawayo have noted that one of the city’s latest COVID-19 patient could ‘most likely’ have been re-infected with coronavirus.
The latest case once recovered from coronavirus but has re-tested positive and may well be Zimbabwe’s first re-infection case.
This follows warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that there was currently “no evidence” people who recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second coronavirus infection.
Bulawayo’s second new case is of an employee of the Zimbabwe revenue Authority (ZIMRA).
As of April 29, 2020, Bulawayo recorded two more positive cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of cases in the city to 12.
The total number of cases in Zimbabwe are now 40, including five recoveries and four deaths.
The cases shot up from 32.
In an update, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said 355 tests were conducted on Wednesday, with 25 tests conducted in Matabeleland South, 10 in Matabeleland North, 98 in Bulawayo, 11 in Mashonaland Central, and 211 in Harare.
“The Ministry would like to report that two of the PCR tests done in Bulawayo on April 28 , 2002 were positive for COVID-19,” said the health ministry.
According to the Ministry of Health, the two new Bulawayo cases include:
“Case 33, a 70-year-old male resident who returned from the United Kingdom on 18 March 2020. He was tested for COVID-19 as a contact to Case 14. Currently he is stable with mild disease.
“Case 34 is a 27-year-old male resident of Bulawayo with no recent history of travel. He was tested for COVID-19 as a contact to Case 33. Currently he is also stable with mild disease. Both cases are recovering under self-isolation at home.”
In an interview with CITE, the city’s health’s director Dr Edwin Sibanda said Case 33 was most likely due to re-infection.
He said Case 33 is the man who came from the United Kindgom and infected Bulawayo’s first positive patient, Case 11 who has since died.
The man also probably infected Case 14, who is his son in law.
“When Case 33 came from the UK he flew in on March 18, via South Africa. We strongly believe he was already infected and he most likely infected our Case 11, the first case we had in Bulawayo, and from there he also infected most likely his son in law who happens to be Case 14,” Dr Sibanda said.
Dr Sibanda explained that when they tested the man during that time, he tested negative under the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, yet he had tested positive for antibodies under the rapid tests.
This meant at some time the man did have COVID-19 but recovered.
“At that time when we tested him using the confirmatory test, the PCR, he was negative but when we looked for antibodies in him using the rapid tests he was positive for antibodies to show that he had the disease,” he said.
The health expert said when officials were doing contact tracing of Case 14, Case 33 presented as one of those contacts.
“So we re-tested the man again in terms of using the PCR and he turned out to be positive. So Case 33 is most likely a re-infection,” Dr Sibanda said.
Dr Sibanda noted that probably “Case 33 was re-infected by his son in law, who is Case 14.”
“Case 33 may have been re-infected somewhere else but we think he was infected by his son in law,” he said.
Due to contact tracing, Dr Sibanda said they were led to Case 34 who had encountered Case 33, at the Joshua Mqabuko International Airport.
“We were following Case 33’s contacts from the plane on March 18, 2020 that’s when we bumped into Case 34 -the 27 year old male- who works for customs or ZIMRA at the Joshua Mqabuko International airport. After tests he turned out positive,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said contact tracing was now on – for people, Case 34 interacted with.
“We are obviously following up on his contacts, we started off wherever he has been. Our teams went to disinfect the ZIMRA offices in town and I’m sure the Matabeleland North Provincial Medical Director’s office is looking at his contacts at work there at the airport, not knowing when Case 34 was last at work at the airport,” he said.
But Dr Sibanda said it was possible that Case 34 could have been infected elsewhere, as a lot of time had elapsed since he encountered Case 33.
“We are thinking Case 34 might have been infected from there (airport) but it is too long a time, he should be positive for antibodies by now. So we are thinking he was infected from elsewhere so that’s why we are following up on all his contacts because it seems the infection was either at work, home, or in his social life.
“He may have interacted with people from Harare or elsewhere so we are following up on everybody. We may find a different source for his infection, other than Case 33. Basically that is it,” he explained.
As of April 29, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said a total of 7642 tests have so far been conducted in the country.