A member of the medical staff works in the corridors of the intensive care unit where Covid-19 patients will be hospitalized at the Etterbeek-Ixelles hospital in Brussels on April 6, 2021.
JOHN THYS | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – It is possible to contract two different strains of the coronavirus at the same time, experts say after the case of an unvaccinated elderly woman found to be infected with both the alpha and beta variants of Covid-19 is.
The 90-year-old woman died in a Belgian hospital in March. Presented the case study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases this weekend, experts said it was the first known case of double infection and highlight the need to be attentive to this possibility.
According to experts, the woman, whose medical history was normal, was admitted to a hospital in Aalst, Belgium, after several falls at the beginning of March. She tested positive for Covid-19 that same day and then developed rapidly worsening respiratory symptoms. She died five days later. Genome sequencing of samples from the woman confirmed that she was infected with the two variants.
How and when the woman living alone and cared for at home became infected is not known.
She wasn’t vaccinated against Covid-19. Studies show that the main vaccines used in the US and Europe (the Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca University of Oxford shots) are effective against the variants of Covid that have emerged, preventing most hospitalizations and deaths.
“This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two worrying SARS-CoV-2 variants,” said Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen, main author of the case report and molecular biologist at the OLV hospital in Aalst.
Since both variants were in circulation in Belgium at the time, the woman was probably co-infected by two different people.
“It is difficult to say whether the co-infection of the two questionable variants played a role in the rapid deterioration of the patient,” added Vankeerberghen. “No other cases have been reported to date. However, the global occurrence of this phenomenon is likely underestimated due to limited testing for variants of concern and the lack of an easy way to identify co-infections with whole genome sequencing.”
In January 2021, scientists in Brazil reported that two people were infected with two different strains of the coronavirus at the same time – the gamma variant first identified in Brazil and a variant currently under study that was discovered in Rio Grande do Sul – but the study has not yet done so published in a scientific journal. Previous research has shown that people are infected with different strains of influenza.
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, a handful of variants have emerged that have proven to be far more transmissible than the “original” strain of Covid that emerged in China in late 2019.
The alpha variant, for example, was discovered in southeast England last fall and dominated the world. It is now being replaced by the extra-infectious Delta variant, which was first identified in India in April. In December, another variant appeared in South Africa known as the beta variant.
The World Health Organization’s last weekly epidemiological report, dated July 6, stated that the alpha variant had now been reported in 173 countries, territories or areas and the beta variant had been reported in 122 countries. Delta has so far been detected in 104 countries.