Killer coronavirus has mutated and divided into two strains, scientists warn
The COVID-19 coronavirus has already split into two distinct strains, scientists have warned.
A team of researchers from Beijing and Shanghai universities, led by Professor Jian Lu and Dr Jie Cui, have managed to isolate the two types – which they call Type S and Type L.
Type L is the deadlier of the two, infecting most of the early fatalities, but it’s Type S that represents the longer-term danger.
Because it kills fewer victims, it’s likely to be carried further and persist for generations.
The L-type has been most effectively contained by hospital treatment and quarantines.
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The team, writing in the Chinese Academy of Science’s National Science Review, said: “Human intervention may have placed more severe selective pressure on the L-type, which might be more aggressive and spread more quickly.
“On the other hand, the S-type, which is evolutionarily older and less aggressive, might have increased in relative frequency due to relatively weaker selective pressure.”
They do concede that the comparatively sample size – only 103 patients – leaves more research to be done on the virus’s mutation.
A British scientist who was not involved with the research told the Daily Mail that it was too early to confirm the team’s theory.
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Dr Stephen Griffin, from the University of Leeds, said: “It is usually the case that when RNA viruses first cross species barriers into humans they aren’t particularly well adapted to their new host (us!).
“Thus, they usually undergo some changes allowing them to adapt and become better able to replicate within, and spread from human to human."
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He added: “However, as this study hasn’t tested the relative "fitness" of these viruses when they replicate in human cells or an animal model, it isn’t really possible to say whether this is what’s happened to SARS-CoV2.
“It is also difficult to say how/why human interference may have impacted upon one strain relative to the other for similar reasons.”
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Currently, there are just under 100,000 confirmed infections, with 3,214 fatalities to date.
The World Health organisation says that while COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu, it is harder to catch.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organisation’s director general, said in a news conference in Geneva: “Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported Covid-19 cases have died.
The doctor added: “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”
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