Chicago coronavirus: Northwestern Medicine study finds COVID-19 virus strain unique to city

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Researchers at Northwestern University have genetically sequenced the COVID-19 virus in 88 patients and found many infected in the city have a unique strain of the virus rarely seen around the world.

Early results from a Northwestern Medicine study suggest Chicago has a unique strain of COVID-19 in addition to other strains, including one globally impacting people and centered in New York.

"It's interesting to us that there were so many different types of viruses here in one place so early on in the pandemic," said Dr. Egon Ozer, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The Chicago COVID-19 variant appears to be directly from the early outbreak in China, experts said. The early results are the first evidence this Chicago unique strain may have a different impact and transmission rate than the one impacting those around the world.

The study examined the genetic makeup of dozens of Northwestern COVID-19 patients in March and compared their genome sequencing with others around the country and world.

"It suggests that maybe this version of the virus is one that is centered around the Chicago area," Ozer said.

The samples taken from Chicago COVID-19 patients uncovered three different, major virus strains, including the predominant strain centered in New York that is impacting people globally. But the strain found more abundantly in city patients was rare, unique to Chicago.

Dr. Ozer, who is the lead investigator on the study, said they found differences between those impacted by the New York-centered strain versus the Chicago one.

"They had more virus in their airways, compared to patients on average that had the more Chicago-centered virus," he said.

"It also just gives us the ability to sort of compare these different kinds of viruses to each other in terms of how significant a disease they cause," Ozer added. "Is there any difference there? Are there any differences in the kinds of patients that get infections with different kinds of viruses?"

All of Illinois is positioned to transition to Phase 4 of reopening next week, which would allow for limited indoor dining and gatherings of up to 50 people.

But in 20 other states across the nation cases are spiking, and hospitalizations are increasing in at least 18 states. Oklahoma reported record high cases Thursday, just days ahead of a Trump rally in Tulsa.

The study still needs to be peer-reviewed and researchers stressed these results are still preliminary. More studies on virus strain mutation need to be conducted, they said but they hope those studies may lead to an effective vaccine.
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