A Belgian woman with two variants of covid-19 has died just a few days after being tested positive. The woman – who died a few days after being admitted to hospital – is believed to have become infected through two people who each carried a different variant of the coronavirus.
Researchers announced the disturbing news at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. It is one of the few co-infections identified by scientists to date, caused by two worrying variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The South African and British variants
The variants in question are the British variant (now referred to as Alpha) and the South African variant (now referred to as Beta). Both variants originating from Britain and South Africa respectively have spread around the world in a short period of time. The South African variant has already been spotted in at least 40 countries. And the British variant has already struck in 50 countries.
All viruses undergo changes, including SARS-coV-2. Many of these changes hardly affect the properties of the virus. But every now and then mutations arise that make the virus more contagious, lead to a more serious course of the disease they cause or make our vaccines and treatments less effective.
Such virus variants are referred to by the World Health Organization as ‘Variants of Concern’. In addition to the South African and British variant, there is also the Delta variant (previously also referred to as Indian variant), which has been causing a lot of damage in the Indian subcontinent.
Belgium woman affected by two variants
At the end of February, both the South African and British virus variants were already circulating in Belgium. Most Belgian corona patients probably contracted one of these two variants. But a 90-year-old Belgian woman became infected with both variants at the same time.
The diagnosis was made when she reported to the hospital in early March after repeated falls. She had no breathing problems and the oxygen level in her blood was normal. However, she underwent a corona test as a precaution, and it turned out to be positive.
After that it went downhill very quickly; the woman quickly developed worsening breathing problems and died five days later. Further research subsequently showed that she was infected with not one, but two corona variants. “Both variants were circulating in Belgium at the time, so it seems likely that the woman became infected with the different viruses through two different people,” said researcher Anne Vankeerberghen. “Unfortunately, we don’t know how she got infected.”
Co-infections are nothing new in themselves. For example, researchers have previously shown that people can also become infected with two different flu variants at the same time. And there is also now quite a lot of anecdotal evidence for co-infections in corona patients. In January, for example, researchers were able to identify two corona patients in Brazil who were simultaneously infected with the Brazilian corona variant and a new variant referred to as VUI-NP13L.
More research is needed
Whether the double contamination also caused the situation of the Belgian woman to deteriorate so quickly is unclear. Little research has been done on the impact that so-called co-infections have on the course of the disease. This is mainly because co-infections seem quite rare. The big question, however, is whether they are really so rare, says Vankeerberghen. She points out that only a very small proportion of corona patients determine which variant they now have. We may have therefore overlooked many co-infections.
The researchers therefore advocate further analysis of a larger part of the positive PCR tests in order to determine which corona variant leads to a positive test result. Only in this way can it be determined how often co-infections actually occur. It will also allow a better picture of the effect that co-infections have on the course of the disease and how they can best be treated.
Working as an editor for the Scientific Origin, Steven is a meticulous professional who strives for excellence and user satisfaction. He is highly passionate about technology, having himself gained a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida in Information Technology. He covers a wide range of subjects for our magazine.