One of the biggest concerns health officials and scientists have during a viral pandemic is that the virus will mutate in various and unpredictable ways, which obviously makes it tougher to study and prolongs the process of developing effective treatments and vaccines.
That may be the case with the current pandemic as Chinese researchers have reportedly discovered a new variation of the coronavirus that could infect people and keep them contagious for nearly two months, more than twice as long as the current iteration of the coronavirus ravaging the globe, the U.K. Mirror reported.
New variation of coronavirus discovered
A middle-aged man under the care of Chinese military researchers was found to have been infected by this potential new strain of the coronavirus for 49 days, which is a substantially longer period than the typical 20 days of infection experienced by most patients and even beats the previous record for longest-known case, which stood at 37 days.
That man is believed to be fine now after having received a transfusion of blood plasma from others who had previously suffered from COVID-19 but since recovered.
The potential good news in this discovery is that the new strain appears to be rather mild in terms of symptom severity. The man reportedly suffered from infected lesions in his lungs, but those lesions were said to have disappeared shortly after he was admitted to a hospital.
Potentially “symbiotic relationship”
Researchers at several different military hospitals in China said the patient’s case could be considered “chronic” and suggested it was evidence of viral mutations. They also suggested that, given the long timeline of that man’s case, the virus may well have developed a “symbiotic relationship” with its host.
It was also noted that an elderly female relative of the man at the center of this case had also previously tested positive for COVID-19 and had suffered moderate symptoms.
However, despite being elderly and having unspecified pre-existing conditions, the woman reportedly recovered quicker than the average for patients in her category, according to the South China Morning Post.
Strain poses diagnostic problems
The biggest concern pointed out by the researchers in regard to this case is that it could be evidence of a new strain of COVID-19 that, while less severe than before and perhaps not as transmissible, could be more difficult to accurately diagnose, treat, and eliminate.
Furthermore, due to the rather mild symptomatic nature of the mutated virus, and in spite of the apparently reduced transmissibility, the researchers feared that other “chronic” patients who develop this sub-strain may not seek treatment and could potentially spread the contagion for a longer period of time and even spark a new outbreak among the population.
While it is a good thing that this potential new strain was discovered, appears to bring about only mild symptoms and is, presumably, less deadly for those who become infected, the longer time period for contagion is indeed a cause for concern.
Hopefully, further study of the virus and more testing of patients will uncover additional information about this and any other mutated sub-strains and lead to the rapid development of better treatments and, ultimately, a cure.