A Scary New Coronavirus is Now Infecting Millions, Study Says
Just as we're dealing with one coronavirus epidemic, researchers are finding the virus has mutated to become an even faster infection machine. "A global study has found strong evidence that a new form of the coronavirus has spread from Europe to the US. The new mutation makes the virus more likely to infect people but does not seem to make them any sicker than earlier variations of the virus, an international team of researchers reported Thursday," says CNN.
"It is now the dominant form infecting people," Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, who worked on the study, told CNN. "This is now the virus."
How They Discovered the Mutation
"The study, published in the journal Cell, builds on some earlier work the team did that was released on a preprint server earlier in the year. Shared information on genetic sequences had indicated that a certain mutant version of the virus was taking over," reports CNN. "Now the team has not only checked more genetic sequences, but they have also run experiments involving people, animals and cells in lab dishes that show the mutated version is more common and that it's more infectious than other versions."
Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study, noted, "The D614G variant first came to our attention in early April, as we had observed a strikingly repetitive pattern. All over the world, even when local epidemics had many cases of the original form circulating, soon after the D614G variant was introduced into a region it became the prevalent form."
"It's remarkable to me," commented Will Fischer of Los Alamos, an author on the study, according to Science Daily, "both that this increase in infectivity was detected by careful observation of sequence data alone, and that our experimental colleagues could confirm it with live virus in such a short time."
Focused on the Immune Response
"We are focused on the human immune response because LJI is the headquarters for the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium (CoVIC), a global collaboration to understand and advance antibody treatments against the virus," says Saphire, who leads the Gates Foundation-supported CoVIC. "Saphire explains that viruses regularly acquire mutations to help them 'escape' antibodies made by the human immune system. When a virus acquires many of these individual changes, it 'drifts' away from the original virus. Researchers call this phenomenon 'antigenic drift.' Antigenic drift is part of the reason you need a new flu shot each year," reports MedicalXpress. "It is extremely important for researchers to track antigenic drift as they design vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19."
No matter what strain of coronavirus we're fighting, it's essential we present a united front: wear your face mask when around people you don't shelter with, practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, monitor your health, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.