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Nine times infectious: a new strain of coronavirus is spreading in the US and Europe

A global study found strong evidence that a new form of coronavirus has spread from Europe to the United States. On Thursday, July 2, an international team of researchers reported that a new mutation increases the likelihood of people becoming infected with the virus, but does not seem to make their condition worse than with earlier versions of the virus, writes CNN.

Photo: Shutterstock

“It is now the dominant form that infects humans,” said Erika Allmann Sapphire of the La Jolla Immunology Institute and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, who was working to study it.

The study, published in Cell magazine, builds on earlier team work published earlier this year. General information on genetic sequences indicated that a particular mutant version of the virus takes effect.

Now the team not only checked more genetic sequences, but also carried out experiments involving people, animals and cells in laboratory dishes, which show that the mutant version is more common and more contagious than other versions.

“We know the new virus is better fit. At first glance, it doesn't look worse, ”says Sapphire.

The mutation affects the residual protein, the structure that the virus uses to enter the cells it infects. Researchers are now testing whether this affects the ability to control the virus with a vaccine. The vaccines currently being tested mainly target the spike protein of the virus, but they have been tested using older strains of the virus.

Experts call the new mutation G614 and show that it almost completely replaced the first version, common in Europe and the USA, under the name D614.

Does not affect patient survival

“Our global tracking data shows that variant G614 is spreading faster than D614,” biologist Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory wrote in her report. - We interpret this to mean that the virus is likely to be more infectious. Interestingly, we found no evidence of an effect of G614 on disease severity. ”

That could be good news, said Lawrence Young, a professor of medical oncology at Warwick University, UK, who was not involved in the study.

“Current work suggests that while variant G614 may be much more infectious, it is not more pathogenic. It is hoped that as the SARS-CoV-2 infection spreads, the virus may become less pathogenic, ”the statement said.

The team tested samples from patients throughout Europe as well as the United States and sequenced genomes. They compared these genome sequences to what was published. A comparison of these sequences helped them map the distribution of the two forms.

“Until March 1, 2020, the G614 variant was rare outside Europe, but at the end of March its frequency increased worldwide,” the experts write.

On the subject: The second wave of coronavirus: how to recognize it and which countries have already encountered it

They found that even when the D614 form caused a massive epidemic everywhere, in places like Wales and Nottingham in England, as well as in Washington state, the G614 immediately became dominant as soon as it appeared.

"The increase in the frequency of G614 continues, despite orders to stay at home, as well as on a 14-day self-isolation regime," the scientists added.

There are a few exceptions, including Santa Clara, California, Iceland, where the older D614 form was never replaced by the newer G.

Three to nine times infectious

The researchers believe that the new version appears to multiply faster in the upper respiratory tract - in the nose, sinuses, and throat - which explains why it spreads more easily.

Tests of 1000 hospitalized patients with coronavirus in the UK showed that those infected with the new version quickly picked up the strain.

David Montefiore of Duke University and his colleagues tested the virus in a laboratory.

“We were able to test if the G virus was more infectious than the D form,” said Montefiore, director of the AIDS Vaccine Research and Development Laboratory.

“All the results confirmed that Form G was three to nine times more infectious than Form D,” he added. "We now have experimental evidence that partially confirms what Bette Korber saw in her sequence analysis around the world — the G form has an infectivity advantage."

Laboratory tests of the virus in action confirmed what the genetic maps showed.

“These results confirm that the newer form of the virus can be transmitted even more easily than the original. Whether or not this finding is ultimately confirmed, it underscores the value of what were already good ideas: wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, ”Korber said.

Other mutations often accompany the G614 mutation, but it is unclear what effect they have. The G614 mutation can be neutralized with serum, a blood product taken from people who have recovered from coronavirus infection, Sapphire said. Her team tested blood donated by six coronavirus survivors in San Diego.

“We looked to see if the spectrum of antibodies in people's blood was as effective at neutralizing the new virus as the old one. He did it, even a little better, ”she said. "It was a relief."

On the subject: New symptoms of coronavirus infection: CDC updated list

Researchers were worried that if a new mutation caused the virus to spread faster and reached higher levels of infection in the body, it would take more effort on the part of the immune system to neutralize it.

“This was not the case for these six San Diego residents,” Sapphire said.

To consolidate the data and understand what these changes mean for the epidemic and for patients, additional work needs to be done, the researchers note.

“There are potential implications for vaccines. We are actively studying these possible consequences, ”said Montefiore.

And, of course, scientists follow other mutations.

“We could dodge a bullet with this particular mutation,” says Sapphire. “However, this does not mean that another mutation cannot appear on top of this one,” she says. "We must remain vigilant."

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