A 90-year-old Belgian woman died in March after contracting two Covid-19 strains, medical researchers in Belgium said Sunday, unearthing the first-known instance of someone simultaneously contracting two different strains of the virus as concerns over infectious new variants mount worldwide.
On March 3, the woman, who was unvaccinated, was admitted to a hospital in Belgium to treat injuries from a fall and tested positive for Covid-19 that day following a procedural test, according to the European Congress on Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases.
Though initially displaying no symptoms of the virus, she quickly developed rapidly worsening respiratory problems and died in the hospital five days later.
Doctors said they don’t know how the woman was infected, but the presence of both the alpha and beta strains, which were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, respectively, was confirmed after scientists analyzed results from the widely used polymerase chain reaction Covid test to look for variants of concern.
It’s “difficult to say” whether the co-infection played a role in the quick deterioration of the patient’s health, said Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen, a molecular biologist at the hospital, noting the case is the first of its kind to be published.
Vankeerberghen urged scientists to analyze a larger proportion of positive Covid test results in an effort to detect variants of concern, saying additional documented cases will be necessary in order to better understand the impact of a Covid-19 co-infection.
“This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” Vankeerberghen said Sunday. “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.”
Four. That’s how many variants of concern the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes are circulating in the United States, including those identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom, alongside others from India, Japan and Brazil.
Public health experts have expressed concerns that variants—and particularly the delta variant first identified in India—could undermine efforts to manage the pandemic, especially given the vast disparities in vaccine uptake across the United States. Citing the rising threat of such variants spreading, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday called on G20 leaders to boost vaccine-sharing efforts to help inoculate at least 70% of the world’s population by next year. “In addition to finance, the international community must do more to fill near-term gaps in planning, coordination and logistics,” Yellen said, adding that G20 countries should particularly focus on helping low and middle-income nations fighting new flare-ups of the virus. Thus far, about 3.4 billion Covid-vaccine doses have been administered globally, representing about 25% of the world’s population.
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