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WHO: No evidence coronavirus is mutating

WHO: No evidence coronavirus is mutating
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Senior officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday there is no evidence that the coronavirus circulating around the globe has mutated in ways that would make it more virulent or more easily transmissible.

Maria Van Kerkhove, who leads the WHO team tasked with synthesizing the science behind the virus, told reporters that virologists around the world had sequenced more than 40,000 full genomes of SARS-CoV-2. Those sequences show small and normal mutations, though nothing that suggests the virus is becoming more or less dangerous.

"The virus itself is stable, is relatively stable," Van Kerkhove said. "They aren't mutating in a way that makes the virus more transmissible or more severe."

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Much is still unknown about the coronavirus, which has infected at least 6.4 million people around the world and 1.8 million in the United States. Several different strains, or clades, have been identified as it has traveled the globe, though there are no indications that viruses traveling from one region are any more or less deadly than from another.

Mike Ryan, who leads the WHO's emergency program, said mutations that make a virus more deadly are unlikely, because of the virus's own biological self interest.

"It's not in the virus's interest to do too much damage in the host. It wants to survive," Ryan said. "We haven't seen any particular signal in the virus's behavior or its sequence that would leads us to believe it has changed in its nature."

If anything has changed about the virus, it may be the level of vigilance that people around the world are maintaining. As governments begin to ease lockdowns meant to stop the spread of the virus, Van Kerkhove urged people to maintain nonmedical interventions like physical distancing, wearing masks and staying home if ill.

"People grow tired. It's very difficult to keep up all of these measures, and we must remain strong and vigilant," Van Kerkhove said. "That in a sense could make the virus more dangerous because people could become complacent.”