Woman Contracts Two COVID-19 Variants at the Same Time

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Source: istock

90-year-old woman from Belgium dies after contracting two COVID-19 variants of concern, both at the same time.

A team of researchers have reported the first documented case of multiple COVID-19 variants within a single patient, all at once. They presented their case study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID).

On March 3rd, the 90-year-old woman presented to OLV Hospital in the Belgian city of Aalst after a history of repeated falls. She had an unremarkable medical history and good oxygen saturation. However, she soon developed respiratory distress which worsened further; resulting in her death five days later. Notably, the elderly woman was unvaccinated at the time.

Samples collected upon her admission revealed the presence of SARS-CoV-2; thus, confirming her infection status. The hospital staff then conducted further polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on the patient’s respiratory samples. Results revealed the presence of not one, but two COVID-19 variants of concern – Alpha and Beta variant. A PCR and whole-genome sequencing of a second sample helped further confirm the presence of the variants.

Both these variants were circulating in Belgium at the time, so it is likely that the lady was co-infected with different viruses from two different people. Unfortunately, we don’t know how she became infected.

Dr Anne Vankeerberghen, lead researcher

It is unclear as to how the patient, who lived alone, came to contract both the mutated strains. According to the lead researcher, Dr Anne Vankeerberghen it is difficult to determine whether the co-infection led to her worsening condition. Although the patient did not live in a care facility, she did receive nursing care at home. Thus, coming in contact with different helpers every day. The study authors believe this may have ended in her contracting the virus from two different people.

The First Documented Case

Although this is the first documented case of double infection, multiple researchers have reported similar cases in the past. Earlier this year, scientists in Brazil reported two cases of patients simultaneously infected with two different virus strains. However, the research has not been published in a scientific journal as yet.

Up to now, there have been no other published cases. However, the global occurrence of this phenomenon is probably underestimated due to limited testing for variants of concern and the lack of a simple way to identify co-infections with whole-genome sequencing.

Dr Anne Vankeerberghen, lead researcher

The variants discovered in the 90-year-old are both ‘variants of concern.’ The Alpha variant was first discovered in the UK in December of last year. Since then, it has spread to more than 50 countries worldwide. On the other hand, the Beta variant, first discovered in South Africa, is thought to evade a vaccine response.

Although the mutated strains pose a threat of rising cases, current vaccines are effective against the variants. Moreover, AstraZeneca has already begun testing a vaccine for the Beta variant. Researchers believe that booster doses and newer vaccines will likely help curb infections and deaths in the future.

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