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VERIFY: You can contract more than one COVID-19 variant at the same time

A study found two cases of coronavirus co-infection, but the frequency and health impacts of double infections are still unknown.

New COVID-19 strains have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic, including those first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. Now, several media outlets are reporting that people can contract more than one coronavirus variant at the same time. The reports cite a Brazilian study posted in January.

Is it possible to be infected with two variants of COVID-19 at the same time, and what does that mean for the severity of symptoms? That’s what people are trying to figure out.

THE QUESTION

Can you contract more than one strain of COVID-19 at the same time? 

WHY WE ARE VERIFYING

The claim comes from a Brazilian study  in which scientists found two instances of COVID-19 co-infection among samples taken from people in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Both people recovered. The study was published as a pre-print article and has not been peer reviewed.   

THE ANSWER

Yes, it is possible to contract more than one strain of COVID-19 simultaneously. But according to Dr. Saralyn Mark and the CDC, health officials don’t know yet whether double infection could impact vaccine efficacy or severe coronavirus disease. In addition, there are no widespread reports of co-infection. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. Saralyn Mark, former senior medical advisor at the White House and current lead COVID-19 spokesperson for the American Medical Women’s Association, said that while having more than one COVID-19 strain at the same time is a possibility, the effect on vaccine efficacy or severe disease is yet to be known. 

“There’s even some thought that perhaps a hybrid strain could be emerging from these variants, but we don’t know yet the implications of that, or if they make the virus more transmissible, lethal or less susceptible to vaccines and treatment,” she said.

Dr. Mark explained that if we’ve learned something this year, it’s that anything is possible with the novel coronavirus and the best way to prevent contracting it is to follow current public health guidelines.

“As the virus moves from one individual to another, it finds a potential opportunity to mutate. So we need to be on guard,” she said. 

According to the CDC, viruses constantly change through mutation, and not all variants can be harmful or consistent. “Sometimes they disappear,” the website said. 

The CDC also clarifies that studies so far suggest these COVID-19 variants are recognized by vaccine antibodies but more testing is underway to determine any resistance to treatment or detection by available tests. 

Dr. Mark emphasized that people should not be alarmed by these new strains, but continue to follow public health protocols and get a vaccine as soon as it is offered to them. 

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