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Woman Develops Rare “Coinfection” of Two Different Covid Variants

An elderly woman in Belgium was infected with two different variants of Covid-19 at the same time in a rare case of “coinfection.”

The 90-year-old woman, who was not vaccinated against COVID-19, developed an infection with the alpha coronavirus variant (first identified in the U.K.) and the beta coronavirus variant (first identified in South Africa) at the same time, according to the report presented this week at the virtual European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID).

Both the alpha and beta variants are considered “variants of concern,” due to their increased transmissibility, according to the World Health Organization.

The woman’s condition quickly worsened after she was hospitalized. She died in March, according to the report.

There have been multiple cases of people being infected with both the novel coronavirus and another respiratory virus, such as influenza, at the same time. But a coinfection with two variants of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has rarely been seen. There have been just a few other cases reported earlier this year, the authors of the report said. However, those cases did not involve a coinfection with two variants of concern.

“This is one of the first documented cases of coinfection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” study lead author Anne Vankeerberghen, a molecular biologist at OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium, said in a statement.

Vankeerberghen also said that both these variants were circulating in Belgium at the time the woman was infected, and she likely contracted the two variants from two different people. Still, “unfortunately, we don’t know how she became infected,” Vankeerberghen said.

The woman was admitted to OLV Hospital on March 3, after experiencing multiple falls. She tested positive for COVID-19 the same day, according to the report.

At first, the woman did not have any signs of breathing problems. But that soon changed. She developed worsening respiratory symptoms, and died five days later.

“Whether the coinfection of the two variants of concern played a role in the fast deterioration of the patient is difficult to say,” Vankeerberghen said.

In January 2021, researchers in Brazil reported two cases of people who were simultaneously infected with the gamma variant (first identified in Brazil) and another new coronavirus variant called VUI-NP13L. 

The occurrence of coronavirus coinfections is likely underestimated due to limited testing for multiple variants, Vankeerberghen added. The authors encourage increased testing for these variants.