51,418 times higher — For one surviving baby infected with a new COVID variant, their viral load was astronomical. What might this portend?

Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP
Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP
[O]ne newborn [treated for COVID at the Children’s National Hospital in DC] was unusual. The baby was very sick, for one. Most infected kids barely show symptoms and even the hospitalized ones tend to have mild cases.

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.

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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.”

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Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

More than 2.8 million people have lost their lives due to the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis ...
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