A new strain appeared in February in Europe, quickly migrated to the east coast of the United States and since mid-March has become the dominant strain worldwide, according to scientists from the National Laboratory in Los Alamos. The Los Angeles Times wrote about their study.
The new report is based on an analysis of more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences collected from around the world by the German organization Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza Data. A team from Los Alamos, with the assistance of scientists from the UK, identified 14 mutations that occurred among almost 30,000 RNA base pairs that make up the coronavirus genome. The authors of the study attracted particular attention to the mutation of the spike protein of the coronavirus, due to which it breaks the membrane of human cells and spreads throughout the body.
Scientists believe that thanks to this mutation, the coronavirus has become more contagious, which not only contributes to a more rapid spread of the disease, but can also make people vulnerable to re-infection. In the places where a new strain appeared, the infection occurred much faster than in Wuhan. Due to its transmissibility, the new strain gradually replaced the previous ones and during March became the dominant pandemic form. Italy was one of the first countries to meet a new strain - this happened in the last week of February, almost simultaneously with the advent of the original strain. A similar pattern was observed in Washington and New York, where the mutated strain quickly replaced the original one.
If the pandemic does not subside with warming, the authors of the study warn, the virus may undergo further mutations. Even if the first vaccines and drugs are ready soon, their effectiveness may be limited. Some of the drugs that are currently being worked on are due to the fact that the substances used in them capture the spike protein of the coronavirus and deactivate it. If they are developed from the original version of the spike protein, they may be ineffective against the new strain.
However, a study in Los Alamos did not find that the new version of the virus is more deadly than the original. People infected with a mutated strain appear to have a higher viral load, but the hospitalization rate for patients infected with a particular version is approximately the same.