A mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is prevalent in several parts of the world, has now been detected in Asia.
Studies indicate that the strain, known as D614G, turned out to be even more infectious than the original strain from Wuhan, specialists argue that it is not a «more dangerous» strain, and that vaccines will continue to be effective against this type of mutation.
Such a mutation was discovered by scientists last February and has since been circulating in Europe and the Americas, according to the World Health Organization, reports Reuters.
Nations report the presence of the mutation
Last week, the Philippine Genome Center announced that the mutation, along with the original D614 genotype, was discovered in June in a small sample of positive cases in Quezon City, near Manila; however, the samples tested may not «represent the mutations of the entire country.
Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia’s Director General of Health, urged people to take precautions after authorities detected D614G in two groups of patients.
At the same time, Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of the Singapore Science, Technology and Research Agency reported that the variant has also been found in this city-state, but that containment measures have prevented its transmission on a large scale.
Effects of the mutation
D614G causes a small change in the glycoprotein, known as the spike, which overflows from the surface of the virus and uses it to enter and infect human cells. An international group of scientists revealed in a study published in July in the journal Cell that this variation in the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome improved its ability to infect human cells, and that it is more infectious in laboratory cell cultures.
On the other hand, Abdullah said that the D614G strain detected in Malaysia is 10 times more infectious than the original, and the vaccines currently being developed may be «not effective against this new mutation.
A separate study conducted by scientists from Scripps Ressearch, Florida, USA, also concluded that the strain is 10 times more infectious than the original.
How deadly is it?
The same study published in Cell shows that the mutation does not appear to be «more deadly» than the original strain or to increase the danger of the disease.
For his part, Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, evidence suggests that the spread of the D614G mutation in some parts of the world has coincided with a drop in death rates, indicating that this strain is «less lethal.
«Maybe it’s a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly,» Tambyah tells Reuters.
The specialist says that most viruses tend to become less virulent as they mutate, this is because «the virus is interested in infecting more people, but not killing them» because it depends on the host «for food and shelter.
Does this affect the effectiveness of the vaccine?
Both Tambyah and Maurer-Stroh indicate that these types of mutations may not change the virus enough to make the vaccines less effective.
«The variants are almost identical and did not change areas that our immune system normally recognizes, so there should be no difference for the vaccines being developed,» Maurer-Stroh stresses.
In addition, Professor Gavin Smith of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, told Today Online that the vaccines will continue to be effective against this strain because they do not target the part that harms the genome.