(CNN) — As the threat of the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA rumbles on, the World Health Organization (WHO) has held talks on a new variant of the bacterial infection that could make the flu shots of the future look like relics from a bygone age.
While it looks more like a watermark than a flesh-coloured organism to most people, researchers have identified a protein called COVID-19 in a small number of people who have become infected with the strain.
The new variant — compared to some 16 other COVID-19 strains found in three hospitals in South Africa between 2001 and 2011 — contains a lot more DNA than usual.
Specifically, 1,567 genes have been discovered, said a statement released by the WHO on Thursday.
“Although it is the first time COVID-19 has been shown to be a particular member of the COVID family, there are a handful of molecules found only in this particular COVID variant,” Christian Koenig, who led the research team at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, said in the statement.
However, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that in some circumstances the new strain of bacteria had the potential to change the fight against MRSA.
“This enzyme produces something that is essentially a chemical weapon,” he told CNN. “If we understand how to use that tool, it would be more destructive.”
“Even if we consider COVID-19 as just a poor man’s Covertence (weakness) it’s really quite terrifying,” Osterholm said.
The WHO statement came as experts met in Geneva to discuss the first national action plan for MRSA, which has become a scourge in hospitals, and has spread across the world to cause infection in everyday people.
It is highly resistant to all antibiotics, even old and more powerful ones.
In 2012, the UN health agency warned that the bacteria had been established in eight nations: Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa and Switzerland.
World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told CNN that the emergence of COVID-19 had been discovered in Switzerland, the United States and South Africa but not in Australia.