The coronavirus has infected more than 1,000 people in Italy, triggering the second biggest outbreak of COVID-19 outside of mainland China. Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 86,000 people and has killed nearly 3,000.
As the world scrambles to contain the coronavirus epidemic, scientists in Milan have made a major breakthrough towards finding a cure.
Dr Maciej Tarkowski, a Polish biologist studying the virus in Milan, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) scientists have isolated the Italian strain of the coronavirus.
The pathogen was extracted from patients in Codogno, a town in northern Italy where some of the first coronavirus infections were confirmed.
Dr Tarkowski said the breakthrough will help illustrate the differences and similarities between different coronavirus strains.
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The biologist said: “What is new, is we have isolated the virus present in Italy, not the one from China.
“This is important because if we can get to know the RNA sequence of the virus from these patients, we can see if they are in any way different from those that were previously isolated from the ill from China in the Roman Spallanzani infectious disease hospital.
“The virus from Codogno is an Italian strain.
“Comparing the sequencing of the viruses can help us understand if the virus changes.
“This is greatly important because we know, for example, the flu virus mutates significantly enough that every year a new virus is needed.”
The virus from Codogno is an Italian strain
Dr Maciej Tarkowski
Dr Tarkowski noted it is still unclear which of the two coronavirus strains is more dangerous.
The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen first emerged in China’s Wuhan City last December and spread like wildfire through China’s Hubei Province.
The pathogen belongs to a family of viruses responsible for the 2002 to 2003 SARS epidemic.
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Dr Tarkowski said: “If we get to know the differences between the two viruses, based on these studies, then they will be linked to concrete clinical symptoms and that will be a big leap forward and then we can talk about differences in the disease and which is more dangerous; the one in China or the one in Europe.”
However, at this stage of the study, it is still too early to make any conclusions.
Dr Tarkowski said: “We can say we are dealing with an active virus that can replicate itself, therefore, it is a complete virus causing symptoms with which patients were admitted to hospital.”
The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system with flu-like symptoms in the early stages of infection.
COVID-19 starts off with dry cough, fever and fatigue, which can all be mistaken for the common cold or flu.
The disease can then deteriorate into pneumonia, which can be fatal for the elderly and patients with underlying medical problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the virus incubates inside of the body for up to 14 weeks.
In some cases, infections are asymptomatic, meaning patients do not develop any visible symptoms.
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