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Can you get two different COVID variants at the same time?

different covid variants at the same time
Photo via Cityswift - Ireland/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

An unvaccinated woman in Belgium was infected with two different COVID variants at the same time, fueling new concerns over the rapidly spreading variants. 

The 90-year-old woman died after being infected with both the alpha and beta variants in March. Several falls landed her in an area hospital, and she was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19. Her symptoms worsened rapidly, and she died five days after being admitted to the hospital.

Researchers are currently unsure if the co-infection contributed to her severe symptoms.

She likely contracted the two different variants of COVID from two separate people, according to experts. A study detailing the case has not been submitted for peer-review but is being presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. 

There are likely more instances of people getting infected with multiple different COVID variants at the same time, according to Anne Vankeerberghen, lead author of the study and a molecular biologist from OLV Hospital in Belgium

“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,” she said. “Being alert to co-infections remains crucial.”

The woman was not the first documented case of a person being infected with two different variants of COVID at the same time. A January 2021 report out of Brazil noted that two people were infected with multiple variants of the virus at the same time, and people have been known to come down with multiple strains of influenza. 

The study is raising questions about the likelihood that we’ll see more co-infections, as well as about the effectiveness of the current vaccines against multiple variants at once. It is also prompting concerns over the possibility that a co-infection may cause more severe symptoms, particularly in unvaccinated populations. 

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Sources: Bloomberg, Forbes, France 24


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