Iceland patient infected by two strains

Top News | AGENCIES 30 Mar 2020

An individual who tested positive for Covid-19 in Iceland has been infected by two strains of the coronavirus simultaneously - believed to be the first of its kind - according to reports.

The second strain is a mutation of the original novel coronavirus.

Kari Stefansson, chief of DeCode, a biopharmaceutical company based in Iceland, confirmed the unusual infection, according to the Reykjavik Grapevine. He said the mutated second strain could be more malicious or infectious because people infected by the dual-strain patient were only found to have the second strain.

So if this is the case, the virus could be mutating to a more infectious one. But Stefansson was unable to confirm this and suggested it could be a coincidence.

He noted that the mutation found in the sample taken from the dual-infected patient is one that has not been found outside Iceland, according to the Grapevine.

This is just one of the startling new discoveries DeCode has uncovered from its analysis of the genetic sequences of 40 Covid-19 strains found in Iceland.

According to Stefansson, the diversity of genetic sequences found in the samples indicate that the virus was brought to Iceland from a wider range of areas than was previously thought.

The main origins are currently thought to be Italy, Austria and Britain. A football match in Britain is thought to be the source for seven infections in Iceland.

Iceland - an island nation home to around 365,000 people - has 963 confirmed cases, including two deaths.

Scientists believe the infection lurked in animals for years, perhaps even decades, before it gained the ability to jump to humans. Studying viruses using genomics helps to understand how they behave, which will help scientists fight the pandemic.

DeCode tested 9,768 people for the coronavirus. This included anyone who had been diagnosed as well as people with symptoms or those in high risk groups.

Some 5,000 volunteers who did not have symptoms joined the study - 48 of whom actually tested positive.

Complete genome sequencing was performed, which revealed clues about how the virus has evolved and the chain of transmission, Stefansson said.

"We can see how viruses mutate," he added. "We found someone who had a mixture of viruses. They had viruses from before and after the mutation and the only infections traceable to that person are the mutated virus."

The study has not yet been published, meaning it has not been scrutinized by other scientists.

But Derek Gatherer, an infectious disease specialist at Lancaster University in England admitted he was not surprised with the findings.

"This is much as we would expect. All viruses accumulate mutations, but few of them are of much medical consequence," he said. "They are valuable in tracing the origins of infection chains. It looks like Iceland has imported quite a few infections from other countries."

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