Coronavirus Mutations - Adapting to Mask-Wearing? | IE

Grant Boone
September 26, 2020

The Houston researchers found the severity of COVID-19 was more strongly linked to patients' underlying medical condition than mutations of the coronavirus. A similar study from earlier this month found evidence that the United Kingdom was also overtaken by the same virus strain over the spring.

Many different strains of the virus entered Houston initially, but when the city moved from a small initial wave in March to a much larger outbreak in late June, nearly every coronavirus sample contained a particular mutation on the virus' surface that had previously been found in cases in Europe.

They added the patients who had this variation of the virus had much higher viral loads in their noses when they tested positive for COVID-19.

"Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers", he said.

Since then, more research has come out lending support to this theory, with the latest being the Houston study.

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Given the urgency of finding effective treatments for COVID-19, the preliminary report is posted to the preprint server medRxiv, and a manuscript is under peer-review at a prominent scientific journal. The Houston researchers said patients infected with the mutated strain had significantly higher amounts of the virus particles on initial diagnosis.

Despite the strain being more dominant the experts said this did not mean it was more deadly. But right now, the virus we're facing doesn't seem to be any more - or less - a threat than in the early days of the pandemic, at least based on the research about D614G collected to date.

The researchers also found that some regions of the spike protein - the primary target of coronavirus vaccines now in development - showed several mutations, possibly indicating that the virus is changing in order to evade the body's immune response. If that happened, we'd be in the same situation as with flu.

D614G is already out there and uses human cells to continue to mutate in a way that would be hard to control via a vaccine.

He told the Washington Post that this "may have implications as to how we can control it".

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