Monday, 2 Oct 2023

Coronavirus is mutating and here’s what it means for killer bug COVID-19

The number of coronavirus cases in the UK, and around the world, continue to rise.

So far thousands have been killed by COVID-19, as governments scramble to enforce rules to slow the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, Chinese research has showed that COVID-19 is mutating, and there are at least two types of the virus.

A recent scientific study found that the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, has mutated into a more “aggressive” form.

This isn’t surprising, as all viruses mutate, or undergo small changes in its genome.

The Chinese study analysed the genomes of coronaviruses taken from 103 patients with confirmed COVID-19 in Wuhan, during the height of the outbreak.

The team of researchers found differences in the genomes, and characterised it into two strains – the L type and the S type.

The research found that the L type of coronavirus, which was present in 70% of the infected, was more aggressive.

Meanwhile, the less prevalent S type had infected the rest.

The research said: “Whereas the L type was more prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, the frequency of the L type decreased after early January 2020."

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It continued: “Human intervention may have placed more severe selective pressure on the L type, which might be more aggressive and spread more quickly.”

What does this mean for COVID-19?

The differences between the two strains are believed to be many small.

According to many scientists, these mutations aren’t anything to worry about.

Nathan Grubaugh, epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, claimed the authors’ conclusions were “pure speculation”.

He told Live Science the 103 cases were a “very small sample set of the total virus population”.

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On February 18, Grubaugh published a commentary int he journal Nature Microbiology, titled “We shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates during disease outbreaks”.

Other scientists seemed to agree.

Richard Neher, biologist and physicist at the University of Basel in Switzerland said on Twitter the statistical effect was probably due to early sampling in Wuhan.

He explained how when there is a rapidly growing local outbreak, scientists quickly sample the virus genomes from patients.

This results in the “overrepresentation” of some variants of the virus.

Ian Jones at the University of Reading said they can’t even really be considered two separate strains.

Jones told New Scientist: “In all practical terms, the virus is as it was when it originally emerged.

“There’s no evidence it is getting any worse”.

Jones also suggests that we can expect even more strains to emerge.

PhD student Mary Petrone and Grubaugh told The Guardian the two strains only “differ by two mutations and are 99.9993% identical”.

That means that if a vaccine was made that was designed for one coronavirus, it would protect against the other.

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