Investigators Say They’ve Found More Contagious Strain of SARS-CoV-2 that can reinfect.
Scientists say they have identified a mutation in coronavirus which they believe means a more contagious strain has been sweeping Europe and the US – and could even reinfect those who already have antibodies.
A research paper from scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, not yet peer-reviewed, reports that one strain of the novel coronavirus has emerged in Europe and become dominant around the planet, leading the researchers to believe the virus has mutated to become more contagious.
The bold hypothesis, however, was immediately met with skepticism by many infectious-disease experts, and there is no scientific consensus that any of the innumerable mutations in the virus so far have changed the general contagiousness or lethality of covid-19, the disease caused the coronavirus.
The Los Alamos scientists, led by computational biologist Bette Korber and working in conjunction with researchers at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, examined a global database of strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. According to their analysis, one strain featuring a mutation dubbed Spike D614G quickly out-competed other strains after it appeared in Europe.
More Contagious Strain of SARS-CoV-2
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 can mutate into a more contagious strain, according to investigators with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. They published their findings last Thursday on BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer reviewed. The Los Alamos investigators, working with scientists at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England, say they wanted to share their findings as soon as possible so that scientists working on a COVID-19 vaccine would know that the SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to mutate. Not only does the mutation cause the virus to be more contagious, but it also might cause people who’ve already had COVID-19 suffer from a second bout of the disease.
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Investigators that they identified 14 mutations that affect the spikes on SARS-CoV-2.
“When we embarked on our SARS-CoV-2 analysis pipeline, our motivation was to identify mutations that might be of potential concern in the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein as an early warning system for consideration as vaccine studies progress; we did not anticipate such dramatic results so early in the pandemic,” they wrote.
Investigators say that the new appeared in February in Europe, then in the United States on the East Coast. They say that it has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March. Investigators say that the new strain infected far more people than the earlier strains that came out of Wuhan, China. In some nations, it was the only prevalent strain. Investigators don’t know why the new strain is more potent than its predecessors, but the fact that it is means it is more infectious.
There are 14 mutations in the COVID-19 virus spike proteins, one of which – known as Spike D614G – they said was of “urgent concern”.
“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,” they wrote. “Also, we present evidence of recombination between locally circulating strains, indicative of multiple strain infections. These finding have important implications for SARS-CoV-2 transmission, pathogenesis and immune interventions.”