Severely sick newborn with new COVID-19 variant had 51,418x higher viral load

Genome sequencing revealed a new coronavirus variant identified in a severely sick newborn treated at Washington, D.C.-based Children's National Hospital, reports The Washington Post. 

Among more than 2,000 children treated for COVID-19 at the hospital, the sick newborn had a viral load 51,418 times the median of other pediatric patients. Most children infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic or tend to have mild cases.

It's unclear whether the infant, who was treated in September and has recovered, represents a chance case or is indicative of broader changes tied to the spread of more transmissible variants.

Researchers found evidence of a variant with a mutation called N679S circulating in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"It could be a complete coincidence," Roberta DeBiasi, MD, chief of infectious disease at Children's National Hospital, told the Post. "But the association is pretty strong. If you see a patient who has exponentially more virus and it's a completely different variant, it is probably related."

Jeremy Luban, MD, a virologist at Worcester-based University of Massachusetts Medical School, said the viral load in the infant's nose "in itself, is shocking and noteworthy." However, Dr. Luban said it could be "simply because it is a [newborn] with an immature immune system, permitting the virus to replicate out of control."

No other Children's National patient had the same variant, but when researchers used an international database to compare genomic sequences, they found eight other samples in the region.

Alan Beggs, PhD, a genomics expert at Boston Children's Hospital, said the database finding suggests that the "variant is present in some significant percentage of the population in this area."  

 

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