Mutation Report Spurs Skepticism

A new preprint study that reports the emergence of a more transmissible strain of the novel coronavirus must be interpreted with caution, warn infectious disease experts in The Washington Post.

After combing a global database of SARS-CoV-2 strains, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and others reported in a paper in BioRxiv—not yet peer-reviewed—that 1 strain, dubbed Spike D614G, became dominant quickly in Europe. The team hypothesized that the mutation allows the virus to more easily infect cells.

Numerous experts rushed to poke holes in the theory, saying there’s no sign that any SARS-CoV-2 mutation so far has changed the general contagiousness or lethality. Though the University of Iowa’s Stanley Perlman agreed that the virus looks more readily transmissible, he emphasized that viruses generally do not mutate to become more virulent (unless this enhances transmissibility).

And Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage, says that the “founder effect” could explain why Spike D614G has become dominant. He notes that virus hit an older, more vulnerable population in Italy—a classic case of “the fox that got into the henhouse."

Contrast that with Washington state—where effective public health interventions have reduced transmission of both strains. Hanage would expect a truly more transmissible strain to crowd out other versions.

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