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China’s doctors fear the coronavirus may be mutating in a manner that could drastically increase infections and make spreading harder to contain.

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Note: This article was published in 2020, during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bloomberg reported today that Chinese doctors are seeing a concerning, new behavior in coronavirus infections. A new cluster of cases in the northeast region suggests the pathogen may be changing in ways that could complicate efforts to stamp it out.

Patients in the northern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang are carrying the virus for extended periods before showing symptoms. The asymptomatic behavior seen with coronavirus is believed to be one of the reasons the virus spreads so easily.

Qiu Haibo, one of China’s top critical care doctors said on state television:

“Patients in the northeast also appear to be taking longer than the one to two weeks observed in Wuhan to develop symptoms after infection, and this delayed onset is making it harder for authorities to catch cases before they spread.”

46 cases have been reported over the past two weeks spread across three cities — Shulan, Jilin City, and Shengyang. Officials believe the new cluster stemmed from contact with individuals arriving from Russia.

Researchers worldwide are trying to ascertain if the virus is mutating in a significant way to become more contagious.

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