Two types of COVID-19 in one individual

24.03.2020 - 10:27
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Íslensk erfðagreining (deCODE genetics) has so far sequenced around 40 different mutations of the COVID-19 coronavirus in its testing in Iceland, and one individual has been found to be infected with two variations of the coronavirus at the same time, the company’s director Kári Stefánsson told RÚV.

Kári also discussed his company’s findings so far with the Denmark’s Information media outlet.

In interview with RÚV news, he said the mutations discovered appear to be Iceland-specific and are not replicated in international databases. The virus’s great variability also indicates that it arrived in Iceland from more sources than previously thought—possibly from a large number of different countries. deCODE's sequencing has included samples from seemingly healthy individuals, as well as those with very minor symptoms, which probably explains why the company is discovering a lot more variability than Landspítali university hospital, which first and foremost tests sick people. 

Kári says he believes it is now an overestimation that one percent of the population in Iceland is infected with the virus, but adds that even if the figure is just 0.5 percent, that would still be three-times more people than have been diagnosed so far. It is of great importance to find the infected people who remain undiagnosed.  

Coverage in Information also reveals that an individual in Iceland has been found to be infected with two mutations of the virus at the same time. Kári explained the case in more detail to RÚV: 

“We found an individual who had two types of virus; on the one hand the virus with a specific mutation and, on the other, the virus without that mutation. Those who the individual later infected were all found to have only the virus with the mutation,” Kári said. 

What does that mean? “It could just be coincidence, but it could also mean that the virus with the mutation was more virulent than the one without the mutation. We cannot be sure either way now.” 

Kári told Information that it is incredible to see how it is possible to trace each virus strain back individually. 

“Some came from Austria and there is another mutation that comes with those who became infected in Italy. Then there’s a third mutation that is found in people who became infected in England. Seven individuals, for example, seem to have been infected at a football match in England,” Kári says. 

Allan Randrup Thomsen, a virologist at the University of Copenhagen, believes that the virus will likely mutate to become more infectious, but with less severe symptoms than at present. He told Information that the variety of mutations now being seen is not surprising. 

“Coronaviruses are known for mutating very quickly. We have seen already from China and as a result it can be well-proven. It is very interesting to be able to trace paths of infection in each individual variant,” Thomsen said, praising the research taking place in Iceland. 

“The Icelanders have benefitted from being a small community and have been able to research the genomes of many diseases, so I am sure that these are good and solid results.” 

María Mjöll Jónsdóttir, head of the information department at Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hopes that Icelandic research on the coronavirus will help other countries. 

“Data from this screening have proven valuable in assessing the extent of the outbreak and helped decision making going forward. We believe that this could also prove useful to other nations that have been unable to track the virus’s spread in their societies,” María Mjöll told Information. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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