The SARS-CoV-2 or more popularly known as COVID-19, has caused one of the worst pandemics in the history of human civilization with a death toll exceeding more than 4 million worldwide (as per WHO reports). This virus has been mutating constantly and it has been documented that different people have been tested positive with different COVID variants. However, recent reports have found that there is now a possibility of coinfection from two different COVID-19 variants at the same time as well.
The First Case of Coinfection
The first case of such a coinfection was discovered as early as November 2020 in southern Brazil. Researchers in Brazil had documented two patients, both in their 30s. These two patients had been infected with the P.2 (also known as the B.1.1.28) variant and one other Variant of Concern (VOC). This led to the new possibility of contracting two COVID strains at the same time. Co-infection cases caused leading researchers at Feevale University, Brazil to conclude that such combinations will generate variants more quickly which poses the risk of a higher transmissibility rate.
The Most Recent Case of Coinfection
On 3rd March 2021, the most recent case of coinfection was documented when a woman was admitted to a hospital in Belgium and tested positive for the virus. The nonagenarian passed away within 5 days of hospitalisation and upon later inspection, scientists found that her respiratory samples had both the Alpha (B.1.1.7) and the Beta (B.1.351) COVID mutations. Both of these were VOCs since they were studied to be highly infectious and fatal.
How Does Coinfection Occur?
Viruses usually have either DNA or RNA as genetic material that is needed for replication. The SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus but has already been shown to undergo a number of mutations so far. According to the records of the World Health Organization (WHO), there are at least 9 different COVID mutations that have been officially documented and classified under two categories. These are:
- Variants of Concern
- Alpha (B.1.1.7)
- Beta (B.1.351)
- Gamma (P.1 )
- Delta (B.1.617.2)
- Variants of Interest
- Eta (B.1.525 )
- Iota (B.1.526)
- Kappa (B.1.617.1)
- Lambda (C.37)
- Mu (B.1.621).
Coinfection usually occurs due to exposure to a large crowd with high chances of exposure to people infected with different COVID variants. However, scientists have also proposed that the virus can undergo a process known as recombination inside the body of the infected person. This can only happen when two viruses infect the same cell and end up exchanging and recombining their genetic material to create a newly mutated variant of the virus.
Who is at a Higher Risk?
According to a report published in the online medical journal repository medrXiv, a Portuguese teenage girl who had been recovering from a previous COVID infection was found to be infected with another variant at the same time. This depicts the possibility that people who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at a higher risk of coinfection too. Scientists have also confirmed that people living in areas with lower vaccination rates are at greater risk. Moreover, old age, comorbidities and a compromised immune system continue to be factors of high risk even for COVID-19 coinfection.
Since RNA viruses like Hepatitis C and Influenza have been known to cause coinfections upon mutation, there is no reason why the same wouldn’t happen with COVID-19. Moreover, with the recent reports of the cases of coinfection, it is all the more reason to avoid large crowds and observe COVID-19 protocol at all public places.
Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.