New mutation of coronavirus is a ‘GOOD thing – it’s more infectious but less deadly’
A NEW mutation of coronavirus – which is more infectious but less deadly – "is a good thing", a leading expert has claimed.
The increasingly common Covid-19 strain, known as D614G, is said to be circulating in parts of Europe, North America, and Asia.
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But evidence shows its rapid spread has also coincided with a drop in death rates – suggesting it may be less fatal.
Dr Paul Tambyah, president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, said: "Maybe that's a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly."
The top infectious disease expert said most viruses tend to become less harmful as they mutate.
Dr Tambyah, who is also a senior consultant at the National University of Singapore, added: "It is in the virus' interest to infect more people but not to kill them because a virus depends on the host for food and for shelter."
Circulating since Feb
Scientists discovered the mutation as early as February and it has circulated in Europe and the Americas, the World Health Organisation said.
The WHO has also said there is no evidence the mutation has led to more severe disease.
On Sunday, Malaysia's director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah urged greater public vigilance after authorities detected what they believe was the D614G mutation of the coronavirus in two recent clusters.
Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of Singapore's agency for science, technology and research said the variant has also been found in the city-state but that containment measures have prevented large-scale spread.
Malaysia's Noor Hisham said the D614G strain detected there was 10 times more infectious and that vaccines currently in development may not be effective against this mutation.
But Dr Tambyah and Dr Maurer-Stroh said such mutations would not likely change the virus enough to make potential vaccines less effective.
Dr Maurer-Stroh said: "(The) variants are almost identical and did not change areas that our immune system typically recognise, so there shouldn't be any difference for vaccines being developed."
It was revealed last month that the mutation of Covid-19 was forming "cluster outbreaks" at a rapid pace in the UK.
Professor Nick Loman, who is part of the Covid-19 Genomics Consortium, said the D614G mutation was first predicted by computer modelling of the virus.
Scientists found that the D614G strain mainly increases the rate of transmission in human cases.
We have been noticing in the UK and worldwide that this mutation has been increasing in frequency.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the University of Birmingham expert said: “It exists in the spike protein which is a very important way that the coronavirus can enter human cells.
"We have been noticing in the UK and worldwide that this mutation has been increasing in frequency.”
The findings come after experts analysed more than 40,000 genomes in the UK.
Prof Loman added: “This mutation was predicted first by computer modelling to have some impact on the structure of that protein and the ability of the virus to bind and enter cells and then quite recently was shown in laboratory experiments to increase the infectivity of cells.”
In May, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US flagged the mutation as "urgent concern".
They found 14 mutations in the Covid-19 virus spike proteins based on analysis of more than 6,000 genetic sequences of coronavirus samples taken from patients globally.
In the research, the scientists warned that vaccines, which are currently being created to fight Covid-19, may not work against this strain.
But Dr Loman assured that the D614G mutation would not impact the course of scientists finding a suitable vaccine as this particular strain is already the most dominant and is seen in around 75 per cent of cases.
"This increase in this mutation is a worldwide phenomenon, the original virus out of Wuhan had the D-type, but the G-type has become much more dominant across the world, including the UK," he said.
He added that although it is present in most cases, that it would have a “small impact”.
“We're not completely confident about that but we found by testing what happened in the UK, the viruses that contained the G-type of mutation seemed to form clusters of cases faster which ended up being bigger than viruses with the D-mutation.”
Prof Loman said there wasn’t any significant association with survival rates and the length of hospital stays for people who presented with that mutation.
“We don't think this mutation is important in changing virulence, the effect seems to be on transmissibility”, he added.
Young adult threat
Meanwhile, the WHO today said it was concerned that the coronavirus spread was being driven by young people.
The agency warned that those in their 20s, 30s and 40s and unaware they were infected, pose a danger to vulnerable groups.
Officials said this month the proportion of younger people among those infected had risen globally, putting at risk vulnerable sectors of the population worldwide, including the elderly and sick people in densely populated areas with weak health services.
“The epidemic is changing,” WHO Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai, told a virtual briefing.
“People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread. Many are unaware they are infected," he added.
“This increases the risk of spillovers to the more vulnerable."
A surge in new cases has prompted some countries to re-impose curbs as companies race to find a vaccine for a virus that has battered economies, killed more than 770,000 people and infected nearly 22 million, according to a Reuters tally.
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