Posted on March 13, 2020 at 12:00 AM
According to a study of 103 cases, two strains from the current coronavirus are circulating across the globe. Yet the World Health Organisation says "there is no evidence of a shift in the virus." So, how many strains are there and why is that important?
As Xiaolu Tang and colleagues analyzed the viral genome taken from 103 cases at Peking University in Beijing, they found specific mutations on the genome at two sites. The team identified two virus types in these two regions based on variations in the genome: 72 were called the "L-type" and 29 were known as the "S-type."
A new team study suggested the L-type has been derived from the older S-type. It's possible that the first mutation appeared around the time the virus transferred from animals to humans. The second, the team claims, appeared shortly after that. Both are currently active in the worldwide epidemic. The fact that the L-type is more predominant, the team notes, means it is "more violent" than the S-type.
"The virus is as it was when it first appeared, in all practical words," Jones says. "There is no evidence that it's getting any worse." The World Health Organization shares the sentiment. Tang's and colleagues ' analysis merely indicates that the virus has some genetic variation–that doesn't mean it is evolving, a spokesperson told New Scientist.
Still, we can not tell for certain. The analysis represents a total of 103 cases. The sequencing findings from 166 cases are collated by a wider, electronic database. Both reflect a drop in the ocean of the approximately 100,000 cases which are publicly registered.
Jones says that we should expect more strains to pop up. Epidemiologists usually believe that if a human becomes diagnosed with the coronavirus, it is impossible that they can be diagnosed again–unless the virus mutates to allow him to circumvent the defenses of the immune system.
This "selection burden" could result in a new strain breaking out, Jones says. That is the case of seasonal flu–each year new strains pop out that can threaten people whether they have had flu in the past or not.
For the latest coronavirus we might see the same trend appearing in the coming years, Jones says. "I don't see this going off fast enough."
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