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Eight Strains Of 'Mutated' Coronavirus Now Floating Around The Globe

The coronavirus is mutating -- as viruses do -- and eight strains are now making the rounds globally, medical experts say.

The good news is the mutations are not more lethal, said Trevor Bedford, whose website NextStrain.org is tracking the virus' genome from samples provided to him from throughout the world.

Researchers are dissecting the genomes of coronavirus and discovering the strains that have emerged since the virus is thought to have first jumped from animals to humans in a Wuhan, China, wildlife market late last year.

A model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19. Image: Reuters

The work shows how the virus is migrating and splitting into similar but new subtypes.

"In the literal sense of 'is it changing genetically?,' the answer is absolutely yes," Harvard University infectious disease epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told NPR.

"What is in question is whether there's been any change that's important to the course of disease or the transmissibility or other things we as humans care about."

The strains emerging are only slightly tweaked, with no variations in lethality, experts said.

"The observed rate of mutation (about two mutations per month) is completely normal for a virus," Bedford wrote on Twitter.

Flu and the common cold have similar mutation rates. Even a bit faster for flu.

While the genomes retrieved so far are providing reassuring information about how the virus can be stopped and whether social distancing is working - indications are that it is - they do not provide more than a sketch, the experts said.

Scientists agree there is much more to be discovered. But the microscopic changes are helping them map the pathogen's pathway through the human population.

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"The outbreaks are trackable," Charles Chiu, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, told USA Today.

"We have the ability to do genomic sequencing almost in real-time to see what strains or lineages are circulating."