Fight against COVID-19

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/4/2021 1:28:15 PM IST

 As the world awaits an effective vaccine against COVID-19, reports that a mutant strain of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus has appeared in several countries, has come as a bombshell. Cases have been identified in more than 30 countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Singapore and South Korea. The UK has stopped all flights to and from the country but passengers infected with the new strain have been reported in many countries including India. The mutated virus is said to transmit 56% to 70% faster than SARS-CoV-2. Virologists and epidemiologists are concerned that the mutated virus strain could spike up infections across the world. Dubbed the “B.1.1.7 lineage,” the strain discovered in the UK has acquired 17 mutations compared to its most recent ancestor- a faster rate of change than scientists typically observe. Some of those are in key areas involved in the virus’s ability to infect cells. Researchers have found no evidence that the mutation causes more severe illness. A report by Imperial College London researchers released on December 31,2020 found “a small but statistically significant” indication that this particular mutation affects younger people - those under 20 - more than other variants do, though the reason could be circumstantial. A team of scientists concluded in an analysis released by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that, without new control measures in the U.K., the increase in transmissibility would likely lead to more hospitalizations and deaths in 2021 than in 2020. Viruses constantly change through mutations that arise naturally as they replicate and circulate in their hosts. As a result of this ongoing process, many thousands of mutations and distinct lineages have already arisen in the SARS-CoV-2 genome since the virus emerged in late 2019. Earlier, another variant was reported in South Africa, known as 501.V2, has driven a surge in infections there, according to country health officials. That strain has also turned up elsewhere, including in the U.K. and Finland. As more mutations occur, vaccines may need to be altered. This happens on an annual basis with seasonal flu, which evolves quickly. An analysis of 641 Covid-19 cases in the U.K. found those with the variant had 10-to-100 times higher concentrations of the coronavirus in their noses compared with infections caused by ‘regular’ SARS-CoV-2, which may explain the higher transmissibility. Just as natural selection has shaped the evolution of humans, plants, and all living things on the planet, natural selection shapes viruses, too. Though viruses aren’t technically living - they need a host organism in order to reproduce- they are subject to evolutionary pressures. Mutation occurs when an error is incorporated in the viral genome. Recombination occurs when coinfecting viruses exchange genetic information, creating a novel virus. Mutations can produce viruses with new antigenic determinants. The appearance of an antigenically novel virus through mutation is called antigenic drift. Antigenically altered viruses may be able to cause disease in previously resistant or immune hosts. Recombination involves the exchange of genetic material between two related viruses during coinfection of a host cell. It is clear that even before an efficacious vaccine could be administered to billions, the COVID-19 has already taken a step to stay ahead in the battle between humans and viruses. 


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