A team of Chinese scientists has found dozens of new coronavirus strains, including some that destroy a host’s cells faster than others. Now, they warn that the most aggressive strains have spread across Europe and New York.
The ability of the novel coronavirus to mutate has been previously vastly underestimated, a team from China’s Zhejiang University, led by Professor Li Lanjuan, says in a new study. The group found as many as 33 virus mutations in just 11 coronavirus patients they examined in the city of Hangzhou.
The researchers say that 60 percent of the strains they discovered turned out to be entirely new. In a worrying development, they also discovered that the virus’s mutations directly affect its deadliness. Their research revealed that the most aggressive type of Covid-19 could create a virus load 270 times greater than the least potent one.
“Despite only 11 patient-derived isolates being analyzed in this study, we observed abundant mutational diversity, including several founding mutations for different major clusters of viruses now circulating globally,” the study said.
The virus load is the measure of its quantity in a certain volume of bodily fluid, usually blood plasma. It particularly shows how quickly a pathogen could propagate through the organism and destroy its cells. Unfortunately for Europeans, one of the most aggressive strains found by the Chinese scientists appears to be similar to the one that has spread across the continent, particularly Italy and Spain, the pre-print of the study published on the website medRxiv.org revealed on Sunday.
The same strain came from Europe to New York, which has since become one of the worst affected US states. America’s West Coast, however, appears to be infected by another, less deadly strain that arrived directly from China.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean those on the West Coast have less cause for concern, as even less powerful strains can cause a serious ailment, the Zhejiang University team warns. They note that two of the observed patients, in their 30s and 50s, who contracted a weaker strain, still suffered severe symptoms.
Most importantly, though, the scientists say their discoveries could affect the development of the much-needed vaccine, because a one-size-fits-all solution might not work in case of Covid-19.
“Drug and vaccine development, while urgent, needs to take the impact of these accumulating mutations, especially the founding mutations, into account to avoid potential pitfalls,” the team says.
Globally, the novel coronavirus has thus far infected more than 2.3 million people and claimed more than 170,000 lives.
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