Coronavirus: Did the mutation make it more contagious?
New scientific study from the University of Texas at Austin reveals that the coronavirus may have become more contagious due to its mutation.
A study of more than 5,000 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in Houston concluded that the coronavirus accumulates genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. According to the study, published in the scientific journal mBIO, the mutation, D614G, is located in the spike – protein of the virus that opens our cells to carry out viral entry.
Mutation, the result of random genetic changes The study notes that “the virus mutates due to a combination of neutral displacement – which means random genetic changes that do not help or harm the virus – and pressure from the immune system response.” In the initial wave of the pandemic, 71% of new coronaviruses detected in patients in Houston showed this mutation. When the second wave of the epidemic hit Houston during the summer, this variation had reached 99.9%.
This reflects a worldwide trend. In fact, a study published in July based on more than 28,000 genome sequences found that variants carrying the D614G mutation became the world’s dominant form of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in about a month.
Why are mutation strains predominant? They may be more contagious, researchers said. A study in the United Kingdom found that strains with the mutation tended to transmit the coronavirus slightly faster and caused larger groups of infection. Natural selection always favors strains of viruses that are more easily transmitted. But not all scientists are sure about this. Some suggest another approach, according to which the D614G mutation may have been more common in the first viruses to reach Europe and North America, effectively giving them a lead over the other strains.
The spike-protein also continues to accumulate additional mutations of unknown significance. The research team also showed in laboratory experiments that at least one such mutation allows the spike to avoid a neutralizing antibody that humans naturally produce to fight coronavirus infections and allows the virus to pass more easily through the body’s immune system. Although it is not yet certain if this fact means easier transmission between individuals.
How rare is the mutation? The good news is that this mutation is not common and does not seem to make the disease more serious for patients who are already infected. According to Dr. Ilya Finkelstein, the team did not see virus strains avoiding first-generation vaccines and therapeutic antibody formulas.
“Efforts to monitor such phenomena, as in our study, will ensure that vaccines and treatments are always one step ahead, even of mutations,” the researchers concluded.
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