Story at a glance
- The strain emerged in Europe in February, migrated to the eastern United States, and has become the dominant strain worldwide since mid-March.
- The authors of the report said they felt an “urgent need for an early warning,” so treatments and vaccines being developed would be effective against the dominant strain.
- But although the new strain spreads more quickly, researchers said it may not necessarily be more deadly for those who become infected.
A strain of coronavirus that appears to be more contagious than others that spread early on in the pandemic has been identified by researchers and is now the dominant strain across the globe, according to a new study reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The study from Los Alamos National Laboratory posted last week on BioRxiv, a website researchers use to share studies before they are peer reviewed, says the strain emerged in Europe in February, migrated to the eastern United States, and has become the dominant strain worldwide since mid-March, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
The LA Times reports the study was posted in an effort to expedite collaborations with scientists who are working on vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. The authors of the report said they felt an “urgent need for an early warning,” so treatments and vaccines being developed would be effective against the newer, dominant strain.
Researchers say the strain, identified in the report as D614G, affects the spikes on the exterior of the coronavirus that allow it to enter human respiratory cells and could potentially make people vulnerable to a second infection.
The study says the strain infected significantly more people than earlier strains that emerged out of Wuhan, China, where the virus first appeared, and was the prevalent strain in some countries, showing that it is more infectious than previous strains.
The report was based on a computational analysis of more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences from around the world. The Los Alamos team, working with scientists from Duke University and England’s University of Sheffield, identified 14 mutations in all.
“The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form,” study co-author Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos, wrote on her Facebook pages. “When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible.”
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The strain appeared in Italy, one of the European countries hit hardest by COVID-19, at the end of February, about the same time the original strain appeared.
In the U.S., Washington state was hit by the original strain in late February, but by mid-March, the mutated strain was dominant. New York was hit by the original strain by mid-March, but the mutated strain became dominant within days, according to the study.
But although the new strain spread more quickly, researchers said it may not necessarily be more deadly for those who become infected.
“We cannot afford to be blindsided as we move vaccines and antibodies into clinical testing,” Krober wrote. “Please be encouraged by knowing the global scientific community is on this, and we are cooperating with each other in ways I have never seen…in my 30 years as a scientist.”
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