If You Catch This New Strain of COVID-19, You Could Be in Big Trouble
For months, you've heard about the coronavirus, and have learned what it can do (infect your lungs and organs, among other things) and how you can protect yourself. That's what makes this new research all the more eye-opening: Scientists may have found a mutation that could make COVID-19 even more infectious.
Nearly 10 Times More Infectious
"The researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida said the mutation affects the spike protein—a structure on the outside of the virus that it uses to get into cells. If the findings are confirmed, it would be the first time someone has demonstrated that changes seen in the virus have significance for the pandemic," reports CNN.
"Researchers said the Spike D614G mutation, which has proliferated around the world, has sturdier spikes — the projections on the virus's body through which it attaches to cells and which give the virus its 'crown,' or 'corona'—than the original Wuhan strain," added The Times of Israel. "Virus particles with the mutation thus tended to have 4 to 5 times the number of functional spikes, enabling them to more easily bind to cells."
"Viruses with more functional spikes on the surface would be more infectious," Dr. Michael Farzan, who co-led the study, said. "And there are very clear differences between the two viruses in the experiment." He added: "Those differences just popped out."
Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, who also led the study, says this could mean the virus could be exponentially easier to transmit. "Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used." He added that they were "nearly 10 times more infectious in the cell culture system that we used."
The Virus May be Adapting to Humans
It's necessary to note that the study has not been peer-reviewed. However, "Choe and colleagues did send their paper to William Haseltine, a virologist, biotechnology entrepreneur and chairman of Access Health International," reports CNN. "Haseltine believes the findings explain the easy spread of the coronavirus across the Americas." "It is significant because it shows the virus can change, does change to its advantage and possibly to our disadvantage," Haseltine told the network. "It has done a good job so far of adapting to human culture. You can see in some places it doesn't get very far and in other places it has a field day."
In some states—including Florida, where the study was conducted—cases of COVID-19 are going up. Other states—like Wisconsin—seem to be containing it, despite reopening earlier than other regions.
Scientists remain cautious until the study holds water under review. "Kristian Andersen, a geneticist at Scripps Research, La Jolla, said that analyses of D614G and other variants in Washington and California had so far found no difference in how quickly or widely one variant spread over another," according to the NY Times. "That's the main reason that I'm so hesitant at the moment," Dr. Andersen told the paper. "Because if one really was able to spread significantly better than the other, then we would expect to see a difference here, and we don't."
As for yourself: To stay safe in your city, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.