It’s possible to have two COVID variants at the same time

Story Highlights
  • Experts have presented a case study of a 90 year-old woman in Belgium who was simultaneously infected with both the alpha and beta strains of Covid-19.
  • The woman had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • Experts say the phenomenon needs further research.

It is possible to simultaneously contract two different strains of coronavirus, experts said in a case in which an elderly woman was infected with both alpha and beta variants of the virus. The 90-year-old woman died in a hospital in Belgium in March. Experts who presented the case study at the weekend at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases said it is believed to be the first known case of double infection and underscore the need to be vigilant.

In early March the woman, whose medical history experts said was inconspicuous, was admitted after a flash flood in Aalst, Belgium, to a hospital in early March. She tested positive for COVID-19 the same day and developed respiratory disease. She died five days later.

Genome sequencing of a sample of the woman confirmed that she was infected with two variants. It is unknown how she became infected. She was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two worrisome variants of SARS-CoV-2, said Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen, the lead author of the case report and molecular biologist at OLV Hospital Aalst in a statement. She said the two variants were circulating at the time in Belgium and that the woman was likely ‘infected’ by two different people. Whether the two different variants played a role in the woman’s rapid deterioration is hard to say, she added. Studies have shown that the principal vaccines in use in the US and Europe – Pfizer, Biontech Moderna, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford – are effective against all COVID variants that have emerged so far and prevent most hospitalizations and deaths.

The global occurrence of this phenomenon could be underestimated due to the limited testing of the affected variants and the lack of a simple method of identifying co-infection with sequencing of the entire genome. Previous research has shown that people can be infected with different strains of flu. In January 2021, Brazilian scientists reported that two people were infected with two different strains of coronavirus, with the Gamma variant identified in Brazil and the variant studied discovered in Rio Grande do Sul, but the study was not published in a scientific journal. No other cases have been made public.

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, a handful of variants emerged that proved more susceptible than the original COVID strain which developed in late 2019 in China. The alpha variant, for example, was first discovered in south-east England last autumn and then dominated the world. It was replaced by the extrainfectious delta variant, which was first identified in India in April. Another variant appeared in South Africa in December and is now known as the beta variant.

The last weekly epidemiological report of the World Health Organization, dated July 6, states that Alpha variant in 173 countries, territories and territories and Beta variant in 122 countries has been reported. Delta has been detected in 104 countries so far.

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