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Scientists have detected a genetic variation to the virus that causes Covid-19 in the world today. It is spreading quickly in Europe and the United States and is able to infect human cells more effortlessly than the original strain that emerged in China.
What you need to know: Although not confirmed yet, a lab-based study published in the scientific journal Cell suggests that the new variation of the Covid-19 virus is more contagious – it is three to six times more capable of infecting human cells compared to the first strain detected in China at the beginning of the outbreak.
An analysis of the virus’s gene samples by a separate team of researchers also in the U.S found that the variant, called “D614G” makes a small but potent change in its “spike” protein. The same protein used by the virus to latch onto a human cell before pushing its way in.
How it got here: After first publishing their paper online in bioRxiv, The researchers are from The Scripps Research Institute in California, U.S were criticised as their research wasn’t foolproof. So, they went back and carried out additional experiments on 999 British patients who were hospitalised with Covid-19.
They observed that patients with the “D614G” variant had more viral particles in them but the severity of the disease did not change.
Why it matters: Currently, more studies are needed to better understand D614G. Essentially, most scientists and medical professionals specialising in Covid-19 still only recognise one strain.
This newly discovered variant is not expected to cause infections that are more deadly or change control measures set up by authorities worldwide.
Instead, the study gives the public a look into science taking place in real-time. This discovery is an interesting one that can potentially affect millions of people. But at the moment, nobody knows the full scope or impact of the discovery.
Who said what: Although not involved in the study, The United States top infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci commented on the results saying that the virus may have mutated into a version that is able to multiply faster in the human body. However, he pointed out that it is not clear if this mutation makes the virus more deadly or not.
We don’t have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible, but this is still at the stage of trying to confirm that.Nathan Grubaugh via Malay Mail
Meanwhile, Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at the Yale School of Public Health who was also not involved in the study said that for the general public, this discovery doesn’t really affect them.
While there are still important studies needed to determine if this will influence drug or vaccine development in any meaningful way, we don’t expect that D614G will alter our control measures or make individual infections worse.Nathan Grubaugh via Malay Mail
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