Scientists investigate possible coronavirus mutation in Chile | Latin America

It is currently investigating why a remote region in Patagonia has reported 20 percent of COVID-19 cases in Chile.

Scientists in Chile are investigating a possible mutation of the coronavirus in southern Patagonia, a distant region near the tip of South America that has had an unusually contagious second wave of infections in recent weeks.

Questions have surfaced when the remote Magallanes region, which makes up just one percent of the country’s population, has so far reported nearly 20 percent of all cases in Chile, suggesting a possible mutation of the novel virus.

While such mutations have been observed in other places, researchers still need to understand how they affect humans.

“Earlier this week, the number of people who tested positive in Magallanes was the same as here in the capital, except that Magallanes has the lowest population density in the country, 170,000 compared to eight million in Santiago,” Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman told the Chilean Capital Santiago.

“Experts say there could be many reasons, including the weather, but they can’t rule out that the new strand of the virus is primarily to blame.”

Studies outside of Chile have also shown that the coronavirus can develop as it adapts to its human hosts.

A preliminary study analyzing the structure of the virus after two waves of infection in Houston, United States, found that an infectious strain dominated the most recent samples.

Scientists say the mutations can make the virus more contagious, but not necessarily make it more deadly, nor inhibit the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

“Some of these variables like cold and wind are linked to a higher rate of spread in the world,” Marcelo Navarrete of the University of Magallanes told Reuters.

The Pan American Health Organization is helping Chilean scientists know more, particularly to confirm whether this new version of COVID-19 is more contagious than previous strands.

“If this hypothesis is confirmed it would be obviously worrying because if the level of contagion in Magallanes were to spread across the country it would mean 25,000 new cases per day, and that is a dangerous scenario indeed,” said Deputy Health Minister Arturo Zuniga.