Woman co-infected with 2 COVID-19 variants prompts calls for more research

A 90-year-old woman in Belgium died after a simultaneous infection with both the alpha and beta COVID-19 variants, according to a case report presented July 10 at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. 

"This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern," said Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen, lead author on the report and molecular biologist at OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium. "Both of 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." 

The woman, who was unvaccinated, was admitted to the hospital March 3 after a series of falls and tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers said she had an unremarkable medical history. 

She did not initially display signs of respiratory distress and had good oxygen saturation, but developed rapidly worsening respiratory symptoms and died five days after being admitted. 

Researchers tested the woman's respiratory sample and detected both the alpha variant, first identified in the U.K., and beta, first identified in South Africa. 

"Whether the co-infection of the two variants of concern played a role in the fast deterioration of the patient is difficult to say," Dr. Vankeerbergen said. "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." 

Researchers were unable to determine how she became infected. 


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