Coronavirus mutation: New COVID-19 strain is more contagious, warns worrying new report

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In doing so, they singled out one particular mutation, D614G, which seems to make it easier for the disease to spread. Co-author Dr Ilya Finkelstein, an associate professor in molecular biosciences at the University of Texas, said: “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.

The virus continues to mutate as it rips through the world

Dr Ilya Finkelstein

“The virus continues to mutate as it rips through the world.

“Real-time surveillance efforts like our study will ensure that global vaccines and therapeutics are always one step ahead.”

The study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal mBio, indicates during the first wave of the pandemic, 71 percent of COVID-19 patients had the D614G mutation.

However, the University of Texas team found by the time the second wave hit, the variant had leapt to 99.9 percent prevalence.

In total, researchers have identified 285 mutations, although most do not seem to have had any impact on its severity.

Ongoing studies are looking at COVID-19 patients to try and establish how the virus is adapting to neutralising antibodies produced by human immune systems.

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The report, referring specifically to the state’s largest city, concludes: “Data of this type will be especially important to have if a third wave and subsequent waves were to occur in metropolitan Houston, as it could provide insight into molecular and epidemiologic events contributing to them.”

The authors have warned each new infection represents a new roll of the dice – and a chance for the coronavirus to become more deadly.

James Musser, who led the study, told the Washington Post: “We have given this virus a lot of chances.

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“There is a huge population size out there right now.”

David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an assistant to director Dr Anthony Fauci, who was not involved in the research, said: “Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion.

“But as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers.”

Its finding align with a separate study published in the scientific journal Cell in July based on more than 28,000 genome sequences.

This research suggested variants carrying the D614G mutation became the globally dominant form of SARS-CoV-2 in about a month.

In the USA, there have been more than 9.2million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Centre, and more than 230,000 deaths.

In Texas alone, there have been 936,816 confirmed cases, and 18,502 deaths.

With the nation going to the polls tomorrow, coronavirus has become the central issue of the campaign.

Challenger Joe Biden has consistently criticised US President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis, with Mr Trump, who was himself diagnosed with the illness at the start of October, defending his record.

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