The mixture of two different strains of the virus in one host could be “another evolutionary pathway for the virus” leading to even more contagious variants in future
Researchers in Brazil have identified at least two people who are infected with more then one strain of Covid-19 at the same time.
While neither of the two patients infected with multiple strains had suffered the most severe symptoms of the virus, there are concerns that further new strains of Covid could arise as a result of this unusual type of double-infection.
The researchers, based at Feevale University’s Molecular Microbiology Laboratory, had studied the genetic samples from over 90 Covid-19 patients across the country’s southern state, Rio Grande do Sul.
Fernando Spilki, the lead researcher on the study, said that the cases of multiple infection had worrying implications.
“These co-infections can generate combinations and generate new variants even more quickly than has been happening,” he said . “It would be another evolutionary pathway for the virus.”
Brazil is currently in the grip of a brutal second wave of infections. Manaus, the capital and largest city of the northern state of Amazonas, is at the epicentre of a major outbreak, with over 1,300 dead in the first three weeks of 2021 alone.
Medics on the ground told CNN that a new virus variant is implicated in the massive death toll. Researchers at Fiocruz, the Brazilian heath research institution, said over two-thirds of the people they had tested were carrying a new variant
In Rio Grande do Sul, to the south, scientists say that up to five different variants of the coronavirus were circulating in the region, including a new one, which has been designated VUI-NP13L.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who says he refuses to be vaccinated himself, is presiding over a chaotic vaccine rollout with only enough doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to protect around 1% of the country’s population.
The emergence of new variants is a serious concern to authorities trying to keep the pandemic under control. The powerfully contagious B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the UK, has led to new restrictions across Europe.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation, says that some of these new, more contagious variants can “drive the surge” of new cases and hospitalisations, threatening to overwhelm healthcare services around the world.
At present, experts believe the existing Covid-19 vaccines will protect against the new variants but most epidemiologists agree that much more research will be needed.