Ask Dr. Nandi: Mutation could make coronavirus more infectious, study suggests

Posted at 5:49 PM, Jun 15, 2020

(WXYZ) — Has the coronavirus become more infectious? Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida point to lab experiments, saying it’s clear that the virus has become more stable due to a mutation.

The mutated strain we’re talking about is called D614G. It made headlines last month when scientists suggested that it was more contagious than the original strain.

But that research received a lot of criticism. It was suggested that this strain dominated due to what’s called the “founder effect”. That’s when something starts off off relatively small, and by chance, it’s able to spread and affect a larger population.

But this latest research shows that no, it likely wasn’t a fluke or some unrelated phenomenon. And that the virus does have the ability to adapt and change.

Now what the researchers did was conduct three separate experiments. And these showed how one small mutation could stabilize the virus’ spike protein. The spikes are what the virus uses to enter a human cell. And these typically shed off. But the mutation was actually able to increase the number of spikes. And allowed the virus to more easily attach and enter human cells.

Let me first say that the number of spikes is 4 or 5 times greater on the virus because of this mutation. And in laboratory tests, the D614G strain was found to be almost 10 times more infectious. So it appears that the virus is learning how to become more transmissible. And it might also help explain why the virus spread so easily in some areas, while other areas had an easier time containing it.

In China, doctors there have brought attention to a new cluster of cases. They noted patients who:

  • had the virus for a longer period of time
  • how it took longer before their symptoms showed
  • and that it took longer for them to test negative

I find this to be very concerning because it gives the virus more time to infect others.

Now as to whether the D614G strain is more lethal, well, other studies have found it to be predominant in hospital intensive care units. However, that doesn’t mean more folks die from it. But to be honest, we actually don’t know yet just how dangerous this strain is.

What we actually need is more research. And we also need to keep a close eye on any future changes this virus may undergo in an effort to stay alive.

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