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Coronavirus mortality rate higher than previously thought, World Health Organization chief says

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'We are in uncharted territory'

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks Monday during a news conference on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The mortality rate for those infected with coronavirus, more specifically known as COVID-19, is higher than officials had previously estimated, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday, according to CNBC.

Previous estimates indicated about 2% of those who contracted COVID-19 died, but now that estimate has been revised to 3.4% worldwide.

"This is a unique virus, with unique features. This virus is not influenza," Tedros said. "We are in uncharted territory."

Deeper into the numbers: Within that overall 3.4% mortality rate, there is some variance depending on the country. That variance is related to the speed of a country's response, and the ability of its health care system to treat patients. The low end mortality rate is 0.7% and the high end is 4% in some locations.

Signs of progress: Despite the lack of information about the virus and how to treat it, a senior WHO official said there is reason to be optimistic that COVID-19 can be contained with the proper public health measures.

"Here we have a disease for which we have no vaccine, no treatment, we don't fully understand transmission, we don't fully understand case mortality, but what we have been genuinely heartened by is that unlike influenza, where countries have fought back, where they've put in place strong measures, we've remarkably seen that the virus is suppressed," said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program, according to CNBC.

Mutating virus: Chinese researchers have found two different strains of COVID-19, indicating that the virus has mutated since the beginning of the outbreak.

The strain contracted by about 70% of those infected with COVID-19 is believed to be more aggressive, but it has reportedly decreased in frequency as the outbreak has gone on. The other 30% have been infected by a less aggressive version of COVID-19.

"These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)," Peking University's School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai determined in a study, CNBC reported.

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