A 90-year-old woman in Belgium died after contracting two variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the same time in March this year.
According to the researchers, this is one of the first recorded cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. Details of the case are yet to be published but were discussed at the European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) this weekend, per Scimex.
On March 3, 2021, the woman was admitted to a hospital following a series of falls. Her medical history was unremarkable and she was unvaccinated. She had been living alone, receiving nursing care at home.
The same day she was admitted to the hospital, she tested positive for COVID-19, and her condition rapidly deteriorated. She passed away five days later.
Researchers at the hospital later found out that she was infected with both B.1.1.7 (Alpha) and B.1.351 (Beta) variants of the virus. The variants were first identified in the U.K. and South Africa respectively.
"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 Anne Vankeerberghen, lead author and a molecular biologist at the OLV Hospital in Aalst, where the woman was admitted. "Unfortunately, we don't know how she became infected."
Speaking to the Guardian, Vankeerberghen said that while there were no published cases of such co-infections, there is a greater likelihood that we underestimate such occurrences due to limited testing for variants of concern.
The European Commission expects the highly contagious Delta variant to become dominant in Europe this summer, per Reuters, even though it has now vaccinated 70 percent of the population following a slow start. The Delta variant, which emerged out of India, is more infectious than the previous variants of the virus and is currently spreading rapidly in Europe and United States.
Last week, vaccine manufacturer Pfizer announced that it would seek permission from regulatory authorities in Europe and the U.S. for a booster dose for the continued protection of fully vaccinated individuals.