The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, developed at least 21 mutations while in the body of a South African woman for nine months, a study has revealed.

The woman, who had COVID for these many months, had not been treated adequately for her HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) diagnosis. She recovered from COVID-19 within six to nine weeks of diligently following her HIV anti-retroviral course, Bloomberg reported. 

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The study was conducted by scientists from Stellenbosch and the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is yet to be peer-reviewed.

The coronavirus in the 22-year-old woman developed 10 mutations on the spike protein, along with 11 other mutations in different parts. A few of these changes in the virus structure were similar to the one seen in variants like Omicron.

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“This case, like others before, describes a potential pathway for the emergence of novel variants. Our experience reinforces previous reports that effective antiretroviral treatment is the key to controlling such events,” the scientists said, while adding that it was still a hypothesis, according to the Bloomgberg report. 

South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with 8.2 million people living with HIV. HIV prevalence among the general population is high at 20.4%, according to Avert, a UK-based, internationally focused charity to build health literacy on HIV and sexual health.

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Recently, another study had shown that the novel coronavirus continued to be detected in a 38-year-old for nearly 232 days. The case, which has been called ‘atypical’ and ‘rare’, was part of research involving 38 patients in Brazil who were tracked on a weekly basis from April to November 2020, until they tested negative twice or three times through an RTPCR test. 

The man in question had shown mild symptoms of COVID-19 for around 20 days. But the novel coronavirus continued to be detected in his body, even undergoing mutations.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)