Israeli who died from second bout of COVID-19 confirmed to have different strain

Probe as to why patient, 74, who had been clear of infection, became fatally ill finds that second illness was caused by a mutated coronavirus variant

Medical professionals in full protective equipment work in in the critical care coronavirus unit, which was built in an underground parking garage at Sheba Medical center in Ramat Gan, September 30, 2020, amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A man who died several weeks ago while suffering from a second bout of the coronavirus has been confirmed to have been infected with two different strains, leading to his fatal illness the second time around, a report said Sunday.

It is the first such case in Israel in which a reinfected patient has died.

The incident came amid growing international alarm at the discovery of mutated and highly infectious variants of the coronavirus in Britain and South Africa, prompting some countries, including Israel, to place strict travel bans on visitors from those countries.

The nursing home resident, 74, became ill in August with COVID-19, the disease cause by the virus. He was treated at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tivka, where he eventually recovered. Three subsequent virus tests all showed that he was no longer infected.

However, in November he became ill again with COVID-19 symptoms and was admitted to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. Doctors were unable to save him and he died three weeks ago, the Kan public broadcaster reported at the time.

Doctors wondered if the virus had been hidden in the man’s body, undetected by tests, or if he had become reinfected, a circumstance that has been recorded in only a small number of cases around the world.

In a separate report Sunday, Kan said that samples from both incidents of the patient’s illness had been studied at the Sheba Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory, where experts found that in each case the man was infected with a different virus strain.

Galia Rahav, June 22, 2020.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“This is one of those cases where it is clear that it is a reinfection and that there is no doubt that the deceased had actually fully recovered for the first time,” Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Unit at Sheba Medical Center, told the Ynet news website on Monday. “These are two completely different virus strain.”

“I don’t know how common this is,” Rahav said. “We don’t know, but it is very worrying if a person can become ill a few times with COVID-19 when the virus changes. What will be the role of the vaccine in that situation?”

Israel began a mass inoculation program on Sunday and Rahav speculated that vaccination may have helped save the man because it would have assisted in the development of his antibodies.

She said that she had filed the case that morning with the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization and that she will study similar suspected cases of reinfection.

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