Ask Dr. Nandi: Scientists say a now-dominant strain of the coronavirus could be more contagious than original

Posted at 3:58 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 16:03:41-04

(WXYZ) — The original coronavirus from Wuhan China has mutated. Scientists say it’s more contagious and not surprisingly, it’s also now the dominant strain found here in the U.S. and around the world.

This new strain first began appearing in Europe back in February, before it made it’s way here to the U.S. And about mid-March, it became the dominant strain world-wide. Now according to a new study from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, it appears to be more contagious. And here’s why - the researchers analyzed more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences that were collected by an organization called the GISAID Initiative. And their data showed that wherever the new strain popped up, it infected a lot more people than the earlier strain from Wuhan, China. And it often became the only strain in some countries. So that dominance suggests it’s more infectious, especially since it’s now the most common strain found pretty much everywhere.

Question: Is this strain more dangerous?

That’s a very valid question and I understand the concern. In the science world, we are used to seeing viruses mutate. Like the flu for instance. That’s why we need to update the vaccine on a yearly basis. But mutation doesn’t necessarily mean that the coronavirus is more dangerous. But here’s what we do know - researchers looked at data from coronavirus patients in the UK. And while they found that these patients had a larger amount of the new strain in their bodies, they weren’t hospitalized longer or sicker longer either.

Question: Speaking of vaccines, could the mutation make the vaccines that are in development less effective?

Mutations can make vaccines less effective. But scientists that work on vaccines would know to watch for changes. Because it could be detrimental to continue working with original genetic sequences than the mutated strain. Let’s say for example with the coronavirus, the researchers to date have found 14 mutations. But they focused on the one particular mutation called D614G which involves the virus’ spikes. So let’s say if a vaccine was designed to target a spike, and it’s working with the original sequences, then it might fail or not be as effective against the new strain. But again, the science community is very familiar with this and I believe they will be successful in finding an effective and safe vaccine.

Question: Last question, could this mean that people may get sick again with the coronavirus?

It’s possible that if the mutation is very different from the original virus that people might be able to get a second infection. So while it’s important that we continue to practice prevention techniques that I’ve been talking about now for weeks, I also don’t want folks to get too stressed over this. Again, we know viruses mutate. And scientists around the world are working tirelessly at finding cures and effective vaccines as well. I'm confident they'll make headway and we'll be able to beat this virus in the near future.

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