Coronavirus warning issued by scientists after virus mutates to be even more infectious
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Coronavirus has so far infected more than 10.9 million people and claimed the lives of more than 520,000 around the world. A collaborative project from a team of researchers from the US and UK have found COVID-19, which has the medical sequencing SARS-CoV-2, has adapted to include a new variant of the virus known as D614G.
According to the researchers, the D614G genome has become the dominant strain of the virus and has changed its proteins, making it easier to enter and infect human cells.
The research project was carried out with experts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Duke University in North Carolina and the University of Sheffield
Dr Thushan de Silva, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Sheffield, said the new strain of the virus resulted in higher traces of COVID-19 found in nose and nasal passages.
He said: “We have been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 strains in Sheffield since early in the pandemic and this allowed us to partner with our collaborators to show this mutation had become dominant in circulating strains.
“The full peer-reviewed study published today confirms this, and also that the new D614G genome mutation variant is also more infectious under laboratory conditions.
“Data provided by our team in Sheffield suggested that the new strain was associated with higher viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of patients with COVID-19, meaning the virus’s ability to infect people could be increased.”
The extensive study analysed vital data from patients around the world using the global science initiative GISAID – a database containing tens of thousands of viral sequences.
Dr Bette Korber, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said the variant discovered has become the “dominant form” of the virus.
Dr Bette Korber said: “It is possible to track SARS-CoV-2 evolution globally because researchers worldwide are rapidly making their viral sequence data available through the GISAID viral sequence database.
“Currently tens of thousands of sequences are available through this project, and this enabled us to identify the emergence of a variant that has rapidly become the globally dominant form.”
Although the research found the disease can become more contagious, scientists do not believe COVID-19 has become more deadly.
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Dr de Silva added: “Fortunately at this stage, it does not seem that viruses with D614G cause more severe disease.”
Meanwhile in England, the latest figures reveal the rate of infection is on the rise in large parts of the country.
The R rate – which measures the level of transmission – is between 0.8 and 0.9, compared to 0.7 and 0.9 last week.
The figures published by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) reveal the R rate in London is now between 0.8 and 1.1.
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Outside of the capital, the R rate has also risen in the Midlands, South East, South West, Yorkshire and the North East.
At the Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the Government would be prioritising local rather than national action to deal with any further outbreaks.
The Department for Health has confirmed a further 137 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in hospitals, care homes and the wider community as of 5pm on Thursday.
The total number of fatalities in the UK now stands at 44,131.
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