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90-year-old woman infected with ‘two coronavirus variants at once’

A 90-year-old woman who died after becoming ill with Covid-19 was infected with both the Alpha and Beta variants of coronavirus at the same time, researchers in Belgium said on Sunday, adding that the rare phenomenon can be underestimated.

The unvaccinated woman, who lived alone and received a nursing home at home, was admitted to the OLV hospital in the Belgian town of Aalst after a fall in March and tested positive for Covid-19 the same day.

While her oxygen levels were initially good, her condition deteriorated rapidly and she died five days later.

When medical staff tested for the presence of any variants of concern, they found that she carried both the Alpha strain, which originated in the United Kingdom, and the Beta variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.

Read | Benefits of mRNA Covid vaccines outweigh rare heart risks, says WHO

“Both of 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 molecular biologist Anne Vankeerberghen of OLV Hospital, who led the research.

“Unfortunately, we do not know how she became infected.”

Vankeerberghen said it was difficult to say whether the coinfection played a role in the patient’s rapid deterioration.

The research, which has not yet been sent to a medical journal for publication, will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

While Vankeerberghen said in a press release that there had been “no other published cases” of similar co-infections, she added that “the phenomenon is probably underestimated”.

This is due to limited testing for variants of concern, she said, urging an increased use of rapid PCR testing to detect known variant mutations.

In January, researchers in Brazil reported that two people had been infected with two different strains of coronavirus at the same time, but the study has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

In comments responding to the research, Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said it was no surprise to find someone who was infected with more than one strain.

“This study highlights the need for more studies to determine whether infection with multiple variants of concern affects the clinical course of Covid-19 and whether this in any way compromises the efficacy of vaccination,” he added.

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