But the real surprise came when doctors measured the infant’s viral load. It was 51,418 times the median of other pediatric patients. And when they sequenced the virus in the baby recently, they found a variant they hadn’t seen before.
Roberta DeBiasi, chief of infectious disease for the hospital, knew she couldn’t conclude anything from one case. But it set off alarm bells. And as the researchers delved further into the mystery, they found evidence that a variant with a mutation called N679S may be circulating in the Mid-Atlantic region.
No one knows whether the infant, who was seen in September and has since recovered, represents a chance case, a sign of things to come, or worrisome changes already in motion as new, more transmissible variants race across the Earth.
“It could be a complete coincidence,” DeBiasi said. “But the association is pretty strong. If you see a patient who has exponentially more virus and it’s a completely different variant, it is probably related.”