COVID-19 mutation makes virus even more contagious, new study says
The potentially deadly and fast-spreading coronavirus has been mutating to become even more contagious, according to new research.
Sept. 24, 2020 (New York Daily News) — Scientists from the Houston Methodist Hospital on Wednesday released a study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of coronavirus recovered in the earliest wave of the pandemic in the Texas city and from an ongoing more recent series of infections.
Many different strains of the virus emerged in Houston initially, but when the city shifted from its smaller first phase in March to a significantly larger outbreak over the summer, almost every genetic sample contained a mutation on the virus’ surface, which had previously cropped up in Europe.
Those infected with the latter strain showed more virus particles upon diagnosis, which means it had grown to become more contagious and likely drove the surge of cases in the Houston area, researchers said. They also concluded the shift in structure did not make the virus more deadly, noting its severity is most strongly linked to whether or not the patient has an underlying condition.
The mutation, known as D614G, has been shown to increase the number of “spikes” coming from the virus. Those spikes are what allow COVID-19 to bind to and infect cells, and having more makes it significantly easier for the disease to latch on.
While most virus mutations are insignificant, the persistent presence of COVID-19 in the United States — where more than 200,000 people have died — has given it ample opportunities to reshape itself into something stronger.
“We have given this virus a lot of chances,” study author James Musser of Houston Methodist Hospital told The Washington Post.
“There is a huge population size out there right now.”