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Some people are intentionally exposing themselves to the coronavirus, hoping to develop COVID-19 to gain natural immunity, but the risks of illness are greater than many realize — and can impact the health of others too. Visual Space/Getty Images
  • The recent death of Czech singer Hana Horka has highlighted the risks of intentionally exposing yourself to the coronavirus.
  • Purposefully exposing yourself to the virus with the intention of developing COVID-19 can be fatal.
  • Risk of severe illness, developing long COVID, transmitting the virus to others, and further taxing the healthcare system are additional possibilities.

On Jan. 18, news broke that Czech folk singer Hana Horka had died after intentionally exposing herself to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

According to her son, Jan Rek, the 57-year-old entertainer had purposefully exposed herself to the virus with the intention of developing COVID-19 while he and his father were ill.

He said this was because proof of recovery would allow her entry into more social and cultural venues, like bars and theaters.

Horka, who was not vaccinated, had posted on social media that she was recovering. However, 2 days later, she was dead, choking to death while lying in her bed.

Unfortunately, Horka’s belief that exposing herself to the coronavirus would help her “get it over with” is one that seems to be growing in popularity.

Many people are tired and worn down from having to be constantly vigilant about the virus.

Also, there is a growing sentiment that COVID-19 is inevitable, and therefore isn’t worth the effort necessary to keep it from spreading.

Experts are cautioning this simply isn’t true.

Intentionally exposing yourself to the coronavirus with the hopes of developing COVID-19 can come with severe complications, including death.

Healthline spoke with several experts who all agreed that deliberately exposing yourself to the coronavirus is incredibly risky and has the potential to affect much more than just yourself.

It puts more burden on the healthcare system

Dr. Nicholas Kman, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said one of the biggest reasons that healthcare professionals don’t want people to get intentionally sick right now is that they are trying to delay the continued spike in cases as much as they possibly can.

COVID-19 is already affecting our healthcare system, he said.

“January tends to be busy for healthcare in the winter with influenza, pneumonia, RSV, and other illness,” said Kman. “COVID has added much to that.”

In addition, Kman said that many healthcare workers are out sick themselves or taking care of sick family members, which further stresses the system.

The current spike of COVID-19 cases has also led to a shortage of available treatments.

“There are effective treatments that can be given to patients to keep them out of the hospital,” he explained, “but they are in extremely short supply.”

Kman said there is only one monoclonal antibody that treats infection with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, and it is extremely scarce right now. Most hospitals don’t have any and don’t know when they will receive another shipment.

So, while effective treatments do exist, it’s not always a given that you will be able to get them if many other people are competing for the same limited resources.

You may get sicker than you anticipate

As was the case with Horka, you may not be able to recover from COVID-19 as easily as you expect.

“While it can be argued that singer Hana Horka likely had fatal COVID complications because she was not vaccinated, the fact remains that COVID is not trivial,” said Joseph A. Roche, BPT, Dip. Rehab. PT, PhD, associate professor in the physical therapy program at Wayne State University and member of the American Physiological Society.

“Even though vaccination has proven to be a bulwark against complications and deaths, unfortunately, there are still rare breakthrough cases where the acute and chronic symptoms of COVID are worrisome,” said Roche, who has also done extended research on COVID-19.

Kman added there is still much we don’t know about COVID-19.

“We have seen many younger patients during the Delta surge get hospitalized and even put in the ICU. Many with Omicron are being hospitalized as it worsens underlying conditions,” he said.

In addition, even though it is still true that people ages 50 and older are more likely to be hospitalized, Kman said that hospitals have seen a surge in pediatric cases.

Kman also pointed out there are many people in the United States with underlying health conditions that are undiagnosed. These people can be at greater risk without even knowing it.

“For example, we know obesity is an important risk factor for severe COVID and about [70 percent] of Americans are overweight or obese. Someone could easily be overweight and have undiagnosed high blood pressure, giving them risk factors for severe COVID,” he said.

You may experience long COVID

Kman said it is very common to see patients with long COVID in the emergency department.

“This has always been one of the biggest reasons to get vaccinated,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 to 20 percent of people who develop COVID-19 have post-COVID symptoms, including:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • fatigue
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • cough
  • chest or stomach pain
  • headache
  • joint or muscle pain
  • nerve pain
  • diarrhea
  • sleep problems

In a previous interview with Healthline, Roche said we can’t really predict for certain how long these types of symptoms might last. However, data gathered by his team showed that people with SARS had symptoms that lingered even at a 4-year follow-up.

What this means is, even if you recover from COVID-19, you may still have debilitating symptoms long after your infection is gone.

Roche noted that vaccination and other preventive measures are the best way to avoid long COVID.

It may not be the best or safest way to gain immunity

Roche said some people may feel that getting exposed to the coronavirus versus gaining immunity through a vaccine might give them more comprehensive or long lasting protection against COVID-19.

However, this speculation is not currently supported by strong research evidence, he said.

Dr. Shmuel Shoham, associated professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, also raised questions about the safety of intentionally developing COVID-19 with the hopes of gaining immunity.

“There are also many unknowns regarding the safety of intentional infection for the person becoming infected and for those around them,” he said.

“If this virus was a product, would it be approved by a regulatory agency for use in humans? Is our understanding of its safety and efficacy sufficient to recommend it for widespread use? The answer to both is no.”

Shoham further added that “the best data on immunity that we have is that being vaccinated and boosted or being vaccinated and having had history of infection results in the strongest levels of protection.”

You may expose someone who can’t easily recover

The medical experts who spoke with Healthline said it is important to look beyond how COVID-19 will affect you personally.

“The risk with Omicron is even worse, as it seems that just about anyone can catch and spread the disease,” said Kman.

“Although some will have a mild course, many others will get sick, miss work, need to go the hospital, and tax the healthcare system. More still may join the more than 850,000 people who have perished from COVID-19,” he added.

“We still need to do the best we can to help our fellow humans by doing the infection control measures that we know work, like masking with a high quality mask (surgical or, even better, N95), distancing (3 to 6 feet), hygiene, and staying in when sick.”

While many of us are tired of going through a pandemic that never seems to end, Kman said there is hope.

“We now have the beginnings of effective outpatient treatments and production of these will increase. We have effective vaccines and know that boosters work well,” he said.

Kman added that the Omicron surge now seems to be peaking, plateauing, and even declining in some locations.

He also pointed to the fact that we generally have a natural decline in infections during summer as more people move to gathering outdoors.

Kman urges everyone to remain patient for a while longer.

“We shouldn’t intentionally get infected or spread the virus,” he said. “We should be diligent about infection control to let our healthcare systems catch up and even recover.”

“Keep in mind, doctors and nurses have been treating COVID patients in the U.S. for almost 2 years now, and you can help us recover by doing your part,” he added.