New Delhi: It is rare but it happened. In the first documented case of a person being infected with two different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the same time, a 90-year-old Belgian woman was found to be carrying both the Alpha and Beta variants in March this year. She died five days after being hospitalised.
Her unique case was discussed at the annual European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, according to a Reuters report in The Indian Express (TIE).
It is rare but can happen
“If somebody is exposed to more than one infected person, he or she can get the infection from any or all of them. There is nothing that prevents such an eventuality,” V S Chauhan, former director of the Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology told TIE.
“The virus takes some time to multiply inside the body and affect all the cells. Till that happens, some cells can be available to host the virus from another source. The immunity against the pathogen takes some time, a few days, to be built. During that time period, it is entirely possible to get infected from more than one person,” Chauhan said.
According to him, such cases of “double infection” were very common among HIV patients.
How does it happen?
The probability of such a thing happening is low, mainly because the infection does not get passed on at every instance of interaction between people. An infected person does not infect everyone who he or she comes in contact with. Therefore, a person meeting more than one infected person during a short period of time, and getting the virus from all of them, has a statistically lower probability. Also, most of the time, it would not be evident whether a person has got the infection from one person, or more than one, the report added.
“The case of the Belgian woman is only the first one that has been detected. But I am sure many more such occurrences would have happened across the world and maybe happening even now. One cannot know unless you do genome analysis of the virus sample from the infected person. Even then, if the multiple infections are from the same variant of the virus, the differences in the genome sequences are very minor, and can easily get overlooked,” Shahid Jameel, Director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at the Ashoka University was quoted as saying by TIE.
“In this case, the person was infected with two different variants, and got picked up. In most cases, it would not be that easy unless researchers are actively looking for it. There is far lesser probability of a person getting infected with multiple variants at the same time,” he added.