A Belgian nonagenarian has been revealed as the first documented case of a person infected with two different SARS-CoV-2 variants at the same time. The 90-year-old woman was carrying both the Alpha variant, first detected in the UK, and the Beta variant, identified in South Africa. She died in hospital five days after being infected in March.
The annual European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases discussed her unique case, according to reports. While cases of “double infection” are rare, it is not surprising, experts told The Indian Express. They said a person contracting infections from several persons over a short period is not impossible and has happened before. V.S Chauhan, former chief of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology based in Delhi said if someone is exposed to multiple infected persons, they can be infected by any or all of them. He added that the virus takes time to multiply and affect all cells. Till then, some cells remain available to host the virus from other sources. Chauhan said such “double infection” cases were common among HIV patients.
However, the probability of double infections is low because it is not passed on every time an infected person interacts with someone. Shahid Jameel, director at Ashoka University’s Trivedi School of Biosciences, said the Belgian woman’s case was only the first one to be detected. But he is certain that such cases have happened across the world, adding that a genome analysis of a sample from the infected person would be the only way to tell. Despite that, the differences in genome sequences in cases of multiple infections are very minor, and are easily overlooked.
Double infections also do not affect the patient’s condition, even if the variants are different. All variants of the virus affect the patient in a similar way and it is irrelevant if the virus comes from one source or multiple sources. Chauhan said the disease’s severity depends on the person’s health, immunity, and the virus’ lethality and not on the number of sources of infection. Jameel said while the Belgian woman’s case was an interesting revelation, it is not a cause for concern.
Additionally, the current vaccines are nearly equally effective against the virus’ different variants as well. Chauhan said for all the variants, the medicines and treatment are the same. He added that none of the variants that have emerged are truly escape mutants. If a mutation happens that can escape the human immunity in the future, then there might be some cause for concern.