Coronavirus has accumulated several genetic mutations – one of which may have made it more contagious, a new study has warned.
Researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, have analysed more than 5,000 Covid-19 patients to understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus has mutated.
They identified one mutation, called D614G, which appears to make the virus even more contagious.
Dr Ilya Finkelstein, co-author of the study, 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 researchers’ analysis revealed that during the initial wave of the pandemic, 71% of Covid-19 patients had the D614G mutation.
However, in the second wave during the summer, this variant leaped to 99.9% prevalence, according to the team.
Dr Finkelstein added: “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.”
In total, the researchers identified a total of 285 mutations, although most don’t appear to have a significant effect on the disease severity.
However, the researchers note that each new infection is a ‘roll of the dice’, and additional chance to develop more dangerous mutations.
Speaking to The Washington Post, James Musser, who led the study, said: “We have given this virus a lot of chances.
“There is a huge population size out there right now.”