Report: coronavirus mutation may make it more contagious

Team of scientists from the US and England say they discovered a new, more contagious coronavirus mutation that may make it harder to end the pandemic.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A study by American and British scientists discovered a mutation in the original coronavirus that may mean the virus has become more contagious, an official at Los Alamos National Laboratory confirmed Sunday.

Researchers at the laboratory in New Mexico, Duke University in North Carolina and the University of Sheffield in England investigating the COVID-19 virus discovered a mutation labeled Spike D614G. Viruses with the Spike D614G mutation have been replacing the original Wuhan form of the virus and spreading rapidly around the globe.

The study was published on the biology research platform bioRxiv and has yet to be peer-reviewed, but the findings indicate the mutation makes the virus more contagious. However, the researchers did not yet find any evidence that the mutation leads to more hospitalizations or deaths, but the increased possibility of infection might make it more difficult to control the pandemic.

The bioRxiv platform is designed to speed up the research process by letting the scientific community review preliminary findings immediately and give feedback before a paper is submitted to an accredited journal for publication.

Headed by Dr. Bette Korber, who was named 2018 Scientist of the Year by R&D Magazine for her HIV vaccine work, the team said it focused on the Spike protein because it mediates infection of human cells and is the target of most vaccine strategies and antibody-based therapeutics.

“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,” the researchers wrote.

Since it was first discovered, the mutation has become the most common strain of the coronavirus worldwide and by the end of March this strain accounted for about 75 percent of the samples in the US and elsewhere in the world, Israel’s N12 reported.

In simple terms, the mutation allows the virus to more easily bind to human host cells and then prevents the body’s antibody functions from trying to attack it. As a result, the D614G mutation increases the virus’ capacity for transmission and also may make illness more severe.

One worrying aspect of the report is that people infected with the original D614 strain of coronavirus might be more susceptible to being reinfected with the newer, mutated G614 form of the virus.

“One has to be careful about drawing conclusions from the any one data point about COVID-19,” ZD-Net reported. “Recent numbers have shown signs of stabilization, only to be followed by what looks like a relapse.”

In the US, too, data shows daily cases plateauing recently, only to be followed by a subsequent new high in daily cases.”

There have been at least two reports in Israel of people testing negative and being declared recovered from coronavirus, only to be re-admitted to hospital after testing positive again. It is not known which versions of the virus they had.

While not necessarily more deadly, if the new strain of the coronavirus increases the infection rate it will make it more difficult to end the epidemic.