Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 March 2020

Scientists say the new coronavirus has mutated and there are now two strains

Researchers have discovered the new coronavirus has already mutated and there are two strains of the virus, which they have classified as the 'L' and 'S' types.

The new coronavirus has been making headlines worldwide.

On Thursday Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the first South African had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

A 38-year-old man had tested positive a few days after returning from a trip to Italy.

The minister stressed, however, that despite this first confirmed positive case, there was no need to panic.

With that in mind, researchers in China have found that there are two different types of the new coronavirus (designated as L and S type) that are causing infections worldwide.

The preliminary study was published on Tuesday 3 March 2020 in the journal National Science Review and was conducted by scientists at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institute Pasteur of Shanghai.

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The researchers found the L type virus was prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak, and was more aggressive. The frequency and virulence of the virus have since decreased since early January.

The S type, they said, was found to be the ancestral strain – evolutionarily older and less aggressive.

The researchers stated that new variations of the coronavirus causing Covid-19 could be caused by “mutations and natural selection besides recombination”.

“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 2019 (Covid-19),” they said.

*An earlier version incorrectly indicated that the L type virus was the second strain, and less aggressive. The article has been updated to reflect the correct information.

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