More Infectious And Airborne Covid-19 Mutant Replaced Wuhan Virus To Dominate Worldwide, Research Finds

Topline

A mutated strain of Covid-19 that developed in Europe was able to outcompete and eventually dominate the original Wuhan virus by being much more infectious—replicating nearly 10 times faster and being much better at airborne transmission than the original strain—according to new research, though the researchers said the mutation should not make vaccines under development any less effective.

Key Facts

Researchers in Japan and the U.S. compared the now dominant mutant strain, which was believed to originate in Europe, with the one that first emerged in Wuhan, China, to see what enabled the mutant took over. 

While earlier studies have shown that the mutated virus is more efficient at getting into human cells, this study shows that it is also more easily transmitted and grows better within hosts. 

Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the lead researchers for the study, said these advantages “may explain why this virus dominated in humans.” 

Fortunately, the researchers said the data suggests that current vaccines in development should still be effective against the mutant, though lead researcher Dr Ralph Baric stressed the need to “track and understand the consequences of” new Covid-19 mutations. 

Baric said such mutations are “continually emerging” — he points to the new mink-related diseases in Denmark — and could lead to greater “disease severity, transmission, host range and vulnerability to vaccine-induced immunity.” 

Key Background

With global Covid-19 cases now beyond the grim milestone of 50 million, a safe and reliable vaccine is likely the best and fastest way to bring the pandemic to heel. Mutations, which are both natural and frequent, could threaten those under development by changing specific parts of the virus that they hope to target. There’s a lot of worry that minks may be the source for one of these mutations, and the World Health Organization is investigating mink farming around the world for fears they might pass dangerous new Covid-19 strains on to humans, some of which are believed to threaten the effectiveness of vaccines currently in development. Denmark ordered the cull of its entire mink herd for this reason, with at least 214 people infected with mink-related Covid-19 since June, though this order was later deemed unlawful.

Further Reading

SARS-CoV-2 D614G variant exhibits efficient replication ex vivo and transmission in vivo (Science)

Denmark, Fearing New Vaccine-Threatening Coronavirus Strain, Orders Cull Of 17 Million Minks (Forbes)

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