Back in September news began to circulate about a coronavirus mutation affecting citizens in the UK.
Virologists were quick to note that RNA viruses mutate very quickly but rarely do new strains meaningfully weaken countermeasures targeted against initial sequences.
“Viruses that encode their genome in RNA, such as SARS-CoV-2, HIV and influenza, tend to pick up mutations quickly as they are copied inside their hosts, because enzymes that copy RNA are prone to making errors,” medical journalist, Ewen Callaway told the Intelligencer this morning.
According to British health officials, stringent lockdowns initiated in London and Southeast England are responses to a new more contagious SARS-CoV-2 strain, named “VUI – 202012/01” by The World Health Organization. France, Spain, Italy, and other neighboring European nations have ordered a UK travel ban in kind.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some preliminary information within the next week or two,” Sax said of the new strain. “It would not at all surprise me if molecular epidemiology starts being done around virus samples around the country.” Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham added.
As of the time of this writing, experts are optimistic about the former while preparing for the latter. The rate of new infections nearly doubled in Southeast England in just two weeks.
“This virus spreads more easily,” UK.’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance said of the virus last week. “And therefore more measures are needed to keep it under control.
Our working assumption from all the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus,”
This particular variation is more transmissible because it enhances the spike protein epicentral to the novel coronavirus’s replication. Additionally, 23 advantageous alteration’s in the virus’s genetic material have made it nearly 70% more contagious among the general public. Thankfully, current data does not appear to support VUI – 202012/01 influencing disease severity.
This isn’t the first coronavirus mutation that has caused alarm. According to a recent research paper published in Biorxiv, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation spike called D614G emerged in April with similar characteristics as the one causing shutdowns across the UK.
“We have developed an analysis pipeline to facilitate real-time mutation tracking in SARS-CoV-2, focusing initially on the Spike (S) protein because it mediates infection of human cells and is the target of most vaccine strategies and antibody-based therapeutics,” the authors wrote. “D614G is of urgent concern; it began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form. Also, we present evidence of recombination between locally circulating strains, indicative of multiple strain infections. These findings have important implications for SARS-CoV-2 transmission, pathogenesis, and immune interventions.”
Similarly, when virologists collected RNA samples toward the end of July, mutations previously documented in Europe were determined to be staffing outbreaks in Texas. Carriers infected with these new genetic sequences shed more viral debris than those infected with the initial strains.
Still, only a minority of academicians are fearful of any of the mutations indexed above blunting the vaccine trials on their way to health systems next year.
“Phylogenetic estimates support that the COVID-2 pandemic started sometime around Oct. 6, 2019, to Dec. 11, 2019, which corresponds to the time of the host jump into humans,” says DR.Francois Balloux who co-led a research team that challenged the aggressive strain hypothesis. “All viruses naturally mutate. Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected,” he said. “So far, we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”