As health officials continue in their endeavour to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, a new study suggests there may be two strains of the virus infecting people around the globe.
What does this mean? Has the virus mutated?
Here’s what we know so far.
Researchers from Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai under the Chinese Academy of Sciences released a preliminary study on Tuesday that analyzed 103 publicly available genomes from patients infected with the novel coronavirus.
The study found in 70 per cent of the cases, the patient was infected with a more aggressive strain of the virus, detected late last year in Wuhan, China.
The remaining 30 per cent of cases were linked to a less aggressive strain of the virus, the study said.
Researchers said the virus likely went through “mutations and natural selection besides recombination,” which caused it to develop the different strains.
The scientists cautioned, though, that the study only looked at a limited range of data, and said followup studies of larger data sets were needed to better understand the virus’s evolution.
“These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19),” researchers wrote in the study.
The findings were published in the National Science Review.
Stanley Perlman, a coronavirus expert at the University of Iowa told Global News “time will tell” if there are two different strains, but that right now it “does seem like there are two variations of the virus.”
“It seems like there’s quite a few mutations so you could interpret it as mutations or two separate entries into human populations,” he said. “I think that it’s just really early to know.”