A 90-year-old Belgian woman died five days after she was admitted to a hospital, where she tested positive for two different strains of COVID-19
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A 90-year-old Belgian woman who died after contracting two variants of COVID-19 is the first documented case of a double infection.

The woman was admitted to a hospital in March, but she had no signs of respiratory distress. She tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and her respiratory symptoms worsened during her stay. The patient died five days after checking into the hospital, according to a research paper that was recently at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases.

Follow-up tests found that she had two coronavirus strains in her system — the B.1.1.7 (Alpha), which originated in the U.K., and the B.1.351 (Beta), which was first detected in South Africa. Both variants have been detected in Belgium.

The woman lived alone and received nursing care at home, but she had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. It's believed that she contracted the separate variants from two different people.

"This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern," lead author and molecular biologist Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen from the OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium said in a statement. "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."

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Researchers also noted that similar cases have been discovered, including two people who were simultaneously infected with two variants in Brazil earlier this year. That study has yet to be published. There have also been reports of people infected with two influenza strains at the same time.

"Whether the co-infection of the two variants of concern played a role in the fast deterioration of the patient is difficult to say," said Vankeerberghen. "Up to now, there have been no other published cases." She said the number of cases is likely underestimated because of limited testing for variants and difficulty with identifying co-infections.

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In the United States, the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) has recently surpassed the Alpha to become the most common strain of COVID-19. "Another important reason why we need to get vaccinated: viruses don't mutate if they don't replicate," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said.

"If you give them the opportunity to replicate by allowing them to spread from person to person, you're giving them the perfect opportunity to mutate even more and perhaps evade the vaccine."