Chicagoans are being infected with a unique strain of COVID-19 that's linked to the early coronavirus outbreak in China, according to new research.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have determined that the Chicago area "is a melting pot for different versions of the virus because it is such a transportation hub," Dr. Egon Ozer, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician, said in a statement today.
Ozer's team is learning how variations of the severe acute respiratory syndrome that causes COVID-19 infects people differently. It's a finding they say could help shape a potential vaccine.
To conduct the preliminary study, which has not been peer reviewed, the scientists compared specimens from COVID-19 tests performed on 88 Northwestern patients in early March with data collected in other states, as well as outside the U.S.
In addition to the strain from China, researchers found what appears to be the most the predominant version of the virus in the New York area and globally, the statement says. That version generates more of the virus in the upper airways than the one that's unique to Chicago.
The Chicago area's first COVID-19 patient was a woman in her 60s who traveled to Wuhan in late December and returned Jan. 13.
"This is the first clear evidence that genetic differences in the viruses are associated with differences in the characteristics of the infections that they cause," Ozer said in the statement.
The differences could help scientists better understand "where a vaccine might be most effective, because they show where these proteins are under selective pressure," he said.
The scientists are continuing to study Northwestern patients, observing how the different variations change over time, the statement says.