An elderly Belgian woman died earlier this year after contracting two separate COVID-19 variants at the same time, it has been reported. Presenting data from the case study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), a team of researchers explained that this is the first documented case of multiple variants of the virus being detected in a single patient at once.
The 90-year-old patient was initially admitted to the OLV Hospital in the Belgian city of Aalst on March 3 after suffering a series of falls. She had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and while she initially did not display any symptoms of the illness, she tested positive for the virus upon arriving at the hospital.
Medical staff then conducted further polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in order to determine whether the patient was carrying any particular variants of concern (VOCs), with results indicating that she had been co-infected with the Alpha variant – which was first detected in the UK in December 2020 – and the Beta variant, which emerged in South Africa around the same time.
“Both 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,” explained lead researcher Dr Anne Vankeerberghen. “Unfortunately, we don't know how she became infected.”
The study authors point out that the patient had not come from a care facility, but lived alone and received nursing care at home. Despite not suffering from any respiratory issues when first admitted to the hospital, she developed “rapidly worsening” symptoms following her arrival, and died five days later. “Whether the co-infection of the two variants of concern played a role in the fast deterioration of the patient is difficult to say”, explained Vankeerberghen.
While some reports have suggested that two local VOCs were detected in a patient in Brazil in January of this year, Vankeerberghen says that “up to now, there have been no other published cases [of individuals becoming infected with multiple variants]”. However, she goes on to warn that “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.”