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An elderly woman in Belgium was simultaneously infected with two COVID-19 variants of concern, according to a report describing one of the first documented cases of co-infection.
The authors said their findings highlight the need for health care providers to be watchful for double infections and the emergence of new variants.
The 90-year-old woman was hospitalized in Aalst, Belgium, on March 3, after a series of falls. She tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus the same day. The woman, who lived alone and received nursing care at home, had not received a COVID vaccine.
When she entered the hospital, her oxygen levels were good and she showed no signs of respiratory distress. But she developed rapidly worsening respiratory symptoms and died five days later.
Testing of the woman's respiratory samples showed she had been infected by two COVID variants of concern: the Alpha variant first detected in the U.K., and the Beta variant first detected in South Africa.
"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," said study author Anne Vankeerberghen, a molecular biologist at OLV Hospital, where the woman was treated. "Unfortunately, we don't know how she became infected."
Whether the co-infection contributed to her fast deterioration is unclear, Vankeerberghen said.
The case study was to be presented Saturday at the virtual European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Up to now, there have been no other published cases," she pointed out in a meeting news release. "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."
Since co-infections with variants of concern can only be detected by variant of concern (VOC)-analysis of positive samples, Vankeerberghen offered an alternative. She urged scientists to use PCR tests to perform fast, easy and inexpensive VOC-analysis on a large share of their positive samples, rather than genome sequencing on a small fraction.
"Independent of the technique used, being alert to co-infections remains crucial," she said.
SOURCE: European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, news release, July 10, 2021
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