Chinese doctors say autopsies of coronavirus victims suggest the disease is far worse than previously imagined.
Medical teams from Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University warned that the virus causes irreversible damage to the lungs and immune system.
"The influence of COVID-19 on the human body is like a combination of SARS and AIDS as it damages both the lungs and immune systems," Peng Zhiyong, who works at the hospital near the disease epicentre, told the Global Times.
Speaking to the country's Communist Party mouthpiece, following a paper published in the Journal of Forensic Medicine, he warned that even if patients recovered, they were left with "irreversible" lung damage.
Dr Peng was speaking after the paper by Liu Liang, a forensic specialist from the Tongji Medical College at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, went viral last week.
Liang's team carried out autopsies on nine coronavirus patients who died in February.
"The autopsy results Liu shared inspired me a lot," Dr Peng said.
"Based on the results, I think the most important thing now is to take measures at an early stage of the disease to protect patients' lungs from irreversible fibrosis."
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Pulmonary fibrosis is permanent scarring of the lung tissue that can leave the patient with chronic shortness of breath.
The paper described an 85-year-old victim of the disease who had suffered apparent damage to his lungs.
According to the Global Times, the paper said the patient had similar pathological changes to those caused by SARS and MERS.
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An earlier study in The Lancet examined the CT scans of 81 coronavirus patients in Wuhan, showed that the patients "indicated the appearance of interstitial changes, suggesting the development of fibrosis".
It comes as a group of Chinese scientists warned that the virus has mutated into a more aggressive strain.
In the new study published in the National Science Review, researchers suggested that after COVID-19 crossed into humans, the original strain evolved into a second type, both of which are now circulating.
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More than 95,000 cases of the disease have been confirmed worldwide, and over 3,000 people have died.
As more than 160 people have tested positive in the UK, the Premier League announced it would ban over 70s from games due to coronavirus.
On Friday, a second coronavirus UK death was confirmed , after an elderly patient died in Milton Keynes.
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