August 4, 2020

Coronavirus mutations: Scientists puzzle over impact

Researchers in the US and UK have identified hundreds of mutations to the virus which causes the disease Covid-19.

But none has yet established what this will mean for virus spread in the population and for how effective a vaccine might be.

Viruses mutate – it’s what they do.

The question is: which of these mutations actually do anything to change the severity or infectiousness of the disease?

Preliminary research from the US has suggested one particular mutation – D614G – is becoming dominant and could make the disease more infectious.

It hasn’t yet been reviewed by other scientists and formally published.

The researchers, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, have been tracking changes to the “spike” of the virus that gives it its distinctive shape, using a database called the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).

They noted there seems to be something about this particular mutation that makes it grow more quickly – but the consequences of this are not yet clear.

The research team analysed UK data from coronavirus patients in Sheffield. Although they found people with that particular mutation of the virus seemed to have a larger amount of the virus in their samples, they didn’t find evidence that those people became sicker or stayed in hospital for longer.

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