Is the coronavirus changing?
In a new cluster of cases in the northeast region of the country, doctors in China are seeing COVID-19 manifest differently than in the original outbreak in Wuhan, Bloomberg reports.
Symptoms appearing later and lasting longer than usual in northeast China
According to Qiu Haibo, one of China’s top critical care doctors, infected patients in the provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang seem to carry the virus for a longer period of time and take longer to test negative.
Patients in the region also appear to be taking longer than the one to two weeks observed in Wuhan to develop symptoms after infection, making it more difficult for authorities to catch cases before they spread, Qiu said in remarks made on state television on Tuesday.
“The longer period during which infected patients show no symptoms has created clusters of family infections,” said the doctor.
Qiu, who previously treated patients in Wuhan, is now in the northeast region to help in this new outbreak.
Some 46 cases have been reported in three cities across the two regions, igniting lockdown measures over a region containing 100 million people.
Mutation — or improved monitoring?
While doctors have been noticing these new patterns in the northeast region’s cases, it is unclear if the virus is changing significantly, or if doctors, now on the alert, are simply observing patients more thoroughly and earlier during the initial outbreak.
Healthcare facilities in Wuhan were overwhelmed by the high volume of cases, mainly treating the most serious cases.
But the new occurrences suggest that at the very least, governments still have a way to go before they can fully understand, let alone contain, the spread of the unpredictable virus.
While researchers are still investigating whether the virus is mutating, early research suggests this hypothesis has been overstated.
“In theory, some changes in the genetic structure can lead to changes in the virus structure or how the virus behaves,” Keiji Fukuda, director and clinical professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, told Bloomberg. “However, many mutations lead to no discernible changes at all.”
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