The novel coronavirus continues to spread at an alarming rate across the world and for the same reason, we keep going back to Wuhan's case. For months now, we have been constantly discussing how efficiently China managed to contain the infection. And while this has given way to a plethora of theories, the latest one in the scene seems like a highly plausible one while being equally alarming.
As per a new study released by researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan some five months ago, seems to have mutated since then. It is this new, dominant, and even more contagious strain of the virus that's fast spreading across the U.S. right now. The 33-page-long report suggests that " The mutation Spike D614G is of urgent concern; it began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form."
"Although the observed diversity among pandemic SARS-CoV-2 sequences is low, its rapid global spread provides the virus with ample opportunity for natural selection to act upon rare but favorable mutations," the report adds. The mutation alters the virus's makeup by impacting the spike protein, a multifunctional mechanism that helps the virus to enter the body.
Simply put, the report asserts that the form of coronavirus that started spreading in Europe in early February and consequently went on to affect the entire world is different and more dominant from the one that started in China. This new strain of the virus is apparently more contagious and can easily put you at the risk of a second infection right after the first bout.
The Los Alamos researchers in collaboration with scientists from Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England have examined thousands of coronavirus sequences collected by the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza and claim to have identified 14 mutations in the virus to date.
Reports suggest if this finding holds true then it signals at a big roadblock for all the treatments and vaccines that are currently being developed for the virus. As study leader, Bette Korber has written on her Facebook page, “The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form. When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible."
She added, “This is hard news but please don’t be disheartened by it. Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can. We cannot afford to be blindsided as we move vaccines and antibodies into clinical testing. Please be encouraged by knowing the global scientific community is on this, and we are cooperating with each other in ways I have never seen … in my 30 years as a scientist.”
The study further warns that if the virus doesn't wane away with the warming weather, then there are chances that it could undergo more mutations thus making it harder for scientists and medical researchers to come up with an effective cure for the same. However, there is some relief to be found in the fact that the new, mutated form of the virus isn't as lethal as the original one.
A similar study had surfaced in early March this year when scientists at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai had claimed that a newer, more advanced type of the virus accounted for approximately 70% of analysed strains across the world. The study further claimed that more deadly strain of the coronavirus was actually found to be the one that spread in Wuhan.
As the world awaits a cure for the novel coronavirus with no other escape in sight, the virus mutations can actually make it a distant dream and complicate the situation further. Here's hoping that scientists find a way out of the current conundrum.