When it comes to things like dating and asking for a pizza, you can be an alpha and a beta at the same time. When it comes to Covid-19, it turns out that you may be infected with both the Alpha and Beta coronavirus variants at the same time as well.
There are now reports of an unvaccinated woman in Belgium dying in March 2021 after getting infected with both the Alpha and Beta variants of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2). The 90-year-old woman may have caught the two different variants from two different people. According to Robin Emmott reporting for Reuters, this case was discussed at the 2021 European Congress on Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID). This year the ECCMID is completely online and virtual, which means that pants may be optional, depending on your camera angle. It’s being held from July 9 to 12.
This is not a complete surprise, both the pants thing and the simultaneous infection. Co-infection (or coinfection, if you really hate hyphens) is when at least two different pathogens treat your body like a cheap motel at the same time. It can a bit of a ménage à yuck with your body. There is already evidence that both the SARS-CoV2 and other respiratory viruses can party it up in your body at the same time. For example, a study out of Stanford University, published last April 2020 as a research letter in JAMA, found that over a quarter of people infected with the SARS-CoV2 were also co-infected with other respiratory viruses such as rhinoviruses, enteroviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, and other coronaviruses. When it comes to infecting you, different types of viruses aren’t like diners at an Outback Steakhouse. They don’t say to each other, “oh, is that body taken? If so, I can move on to someone else.”
In fact, co-infection doesn’t have to stop at two on one. Viruses can have a virtual orgy in your body. Think about that the next time you sing, “touched for the very first time” in the shower.
All of this raises the possibility that multiple variants of concern may circulate in a population at the same time. There may be the perception that a single variant may be dominant at a given time. For example, the spread of the Delta variant may lead people to believe that the Lambda variant won’t be an issue if the Delta variant can out-compete the Lambda variant. It’s not yet known whether the Delta variant can out-compete the Lambda variant, in part because we still don’t even know how transmissible the Lambda variant may be, as I covered yesterday for Forbes. And it’s not yet known whether and how these different variants may co-exist. Will they be more like Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series? Or will they be more like Sheldon and Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang TV show?
Moreover, a question is whether being infected by two different variants may lead to worse or longer illness and worse outcomes than getting infected with just one variant. Will two different versions of the Covid-19 coronavirus team up to do even more damage to your body? Or will one be more of a bystander? And what does this mean in terms of protecting against and treating Covid-19?
Of course, one case is just one case. For example, just because Mark Zuckerberg was filmed carrying the American flag while riding a hydrofoil on a lake to the tune of John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” doesn’t mean that you can and should do such a thing too. You may end up having to play the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” instead. Similarly, one case of co-infection doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a common occurrence. It remains to be seen how rare versus widespread this situation may be.
The other question is what other combinations of variants may be possible. Is it like Greek letter scrabble where you can mix-and-match every possibility. For example, can you take a Lambda, Eta, Alpha, Kappa at the same time?
Nevertheless, the SARS-CoV2 keep showing how complex it can be. So don’t think that we know everything there is to know about this virus just yet. The virus is like a tiger selfie or someone stating “no drama” on a dating profile. The more it spreads around, the more questions it continues to raise.