Belgian woman dies after co-infection from two COVID-19 strains

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A 90-year-old Belgian died after suffering simultaneous infections from two COVID-19 variants. 

The unvaccinated woman, who was not named, tested positive after admission to the OLV hospital in Aalst in March after she fell multiple times. Her oxygen levels were initially good, but her condition rapidly deteriorated. 

She died five days later, the Guardian reported. An autopsy revealed that she was infected with both the Alpha and Beta variants at the time of her death. 

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“This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” said Anne Vankeerberghen from the OLV hospital. “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.” 

“Unfortunately we don’t know how she became infected,” she added. 

The Alpha variant first arose in the U.K. while the Beta strain arose in South Africa. The infections likely originated from different people, Bloomberg reported

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Researchers at the hospital could not say if the co-infection played a role in her rapid decline. 

In January 2021, scientists in Brazil reported two people had been simultaneously infected with two different strains of the coronavirus, but research on those patients has not yet been published in a scientific journal, according to Medical Express

Vankeerberghen speculated that the lack of testing for variants has allowed similar co-infection cases to go undetected. 

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“Since co-infections with variants of concern can only be detected by VOC-analysis of positive samples, we would encourage scientists to perform fast, easy and cheap VOC-analysis by PCR on a large proportion of their positive samples, rather than just whole genome sequencing on a small proportion,” she said. 

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“Independent of the technique used, being alert to co-infections remains crucial.”