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CLEVELAND (WJW) — COVID-19 reinfections are being analyzed closely as new variants of the virus spread around the world.

“Reinfection by itself is very rare and reinfection causing a severe case is exceptionally rare,” said Dr. Keith Armitage.

Dr. Armitage is the Medical Director of the Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health at University Hospitals. He said when it comes to the virus and its variants there are still unknowns that cause concern.

“We know for sure from the clinical trials that all the vaccines so far are highly effective in preventing death and hospitalization,” he said. “What we don’t know is, will new strains, will new mutations make the vaccines less effective.”

In January, Fox 8 reported University Hospitals found the fast-spreading U.K. variant in samples from local patients. The samples were found in December through testing developed in UH’s Department of Pathology’s Translational Laboratory.

“I’m very confident we have not had the South African strain yet and that’s the one that’s garnering the most attention because it seems to be the one where potentially the vaccines are less effective,” said Dr. Armitage.

The Cleveland Clinic Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health Director Dr. Jae Jung recently authored a published report studying virus reinfection in ferrets. The research found animals who carried strong immunity to the virus were less likely to get reinfected.

“On the other hand animal carrying medium level or low level of immunity they can be readily reinfected and can also transmit to other animals,” said Dr. Jung.

Although reinfection is less common, doctors said it’s important for people not to let their guards down and continue to wear a mask and follow public health measures in order to protect themselves and others.

“I think the nightmare scenario is that a highly contagious new variant for which the vaccines are not effective would gain a significant foothold of the United States,” said Armitage.