COVID Is Mutating Again. Here's What You Need to Know About the New Strain
There's good news and bad news when it comes to this COVID mutation.
All viruses mutate, but it's understandable if that doesn't exactly put you at ease when it comes to coronavirus. After all, the fact that COVID is mutating brings about a whole new wave of uncertainty about how it will behave—and whether it will become harder for us to beat.
So far, scientists have counted six main strains of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus, and each of them presents with different traits and trajectories. Known as the "D614G strain" or more commonly as the "G strain," the newest mutation of Sars-CoV-2 is found most commonly right here in North America, though it's gradually becoming the dominant strain across the world. The good news? Considering how rapidly and dramatically viruses can mutate, COVID's mutation has been relatively slow and steady. Read on to find out all you need to know about the newest strain, and how it will affect our fight against it. And for more on staying safe from coronavirus, check out Dr. Fauci's Top 10 Tips to Keep You Safe from COVID-19.
Compared to the original strain, the newest strain is more easily transmissible, researchers say. One study, published in the journal Cell, concluded that the new G strain is a whopping 10 times more contagious—which may explain why it was able to become the dominant strain so quickly. A change in the virus's spike protein makes it easier to spread, and researchers have observed that patients with the G variant also seem to have higher levels of the virus in their bodies, making them even more likely to pass it on to others.
Now for the good news. Though the G strain appears to spread more easily, it's considered less deadly than previous strains. Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases recently told Reuters that the spread of the new strain coincides with lower death rates in those areas, suggesting that it yields a lower rate of mortality. And for more like this, find out why 80 Percent of COVID Patients Have This Deadly Complication.
Beyond having lower death rates, one study published in The Lancet medical journal found that the G strain's cases are less severe on average. Reuters reports that patients with this strain are less likely to require intensive care or experience drops in blood oxygen. They point out that this is because the G strain may elicit a more robust immune response than other strains.
Mutations can have a tremendous impact on whether a vaccine works long-term, but thankfully, most researchers agree that the slow mutation speed observed in Sars-CoV-2 is working in our favor. A working group at the World Health Organization is reportedly tracking all coronavirus mutations to understand how each new version behaves. In the meantime, they're urging the public to keep masking up, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene until a vaccine is widely available. And for more on vaccines, Here's Why One Coronavirus Vaccine Shot Won't Be Enough.