Covid virus mutation may have made it more contagious: Study

Covid virus mutation may have made it more contagious: Study
NEW YORK, NOV 1 (IANS/AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 11/1/2020 11:59:02 AM IST

The virus that causes Covid-19 is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious, says a study involving more than 5,000 patients in the US.

In August, Malaysia’s Director General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah in a Facebook post stated that the new strain of the novel coronavirus called ‘D614G’, deemed ten times more infectious, was detected in Malaysia. “It’s is found to be 10 times easier to infect different people and easier to spread, if spread by ‘super spreader’ individuals,” Dr Noor Hisham said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

According to the paper published in the peer-reviewed journal mBIO, the mutation called D614G, is located in the spike protein that pries open our cells for viral entry. The patients involved in this study of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences were from Houston, Texas.

The paper shows “the virus is mutating due to a combination of neutral drift-which just means random genetic changes that don’t help or hurt the virus-and pressure from our immune systems,” said Ilya Finkelstein, Associate Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study. During the initial wave of the pandemic, 71 per cent of the novel coronaviruses identified in patients in Houston had this mutation.

When the second wave of the outbreak hit Houston during the summer, this variant had leaped to 99.9 per cent prevalence, said the study, adding that this mirrors a trend observed around the world.

A study published in July based on more than 28,000 genome sequences found that variants carrying the D614G mutation became the globally dominant form of SARS-CoV-2 in about a month.

The good news is that this mutation is rare and does not appear to make the disease more severe for infected patients.

“The virus continues to mutate as it rips through the world,” Finkelstein said.

“Real-time surveillance efforts like our study will ensure that global vaccines and therapeutics are always one step ahead.” The scientists noted a total of 285 mutations across thousands of infections, although most do not appear to have a significant effect on how severe the disease is.

How prevalent is it in India?: “The D614G mutation, which is the defining mutation for clade A2 of the virus, is indeed, quite prevalent in India,” Dr Anu Raghunathan, Senior Principal Scientist at CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory said in an email to The Hindu.

A study (a preprint posted on bioRxiv) — which collected SARS-CoV-2-positive samples from the various States like Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh among others — reveals that the D614G was one of the most prevalent spike mutations even during the initial phase of the pandemic.

Since then, D614G mutation’s ‘relative abundance’ has increased over time to 70% and above, in most States except Delhi, reports another pre-print in BioRxiv after analysing samples from 10 Indian States.


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