Researchers say that a mutated strain of COVID-19 appears to be more contagious when compared to other strains of the virus, and transmission of the virus is less likely to be prevented by wearing a mask or washing hands.
The mutation, according to researchers, could be due to the virus's response in circumventing masks and other social distancing-related efforts to tamp down the spread of the virus.
What are the details?
According to a Wednesday report from The Washington Post, scientists say that the study — conducted in Houston and released on Wednesday — appears to be the largest of its kind in the U.S., and is comprised of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of the coronavirus.
Scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine, the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin all contributed to the study.
The study — which was not peer reviewed — found that people infected with the D614G mutation had higher loads of virus, meaning it was more contagious when compared with other strains of the virus.
"The new report, however, did not find that these mutations have made the virus deadlier or changed clinical outcomes," the Post reported. "All viruses accumulate genetic mutations, and most are insignificant, scientists say."
The outlet reported that 99.9 percent of cases during the "second wave" in the Houston area were infected with the D614G mutation.
Research suggests virus can become more contagious
David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the new research suggests that the virus could adapt to become more contagious.
"Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious, it statistically is better at getting around those barriers," Morens, who is senior adviser to Dr. Anthony Fauci, explained.
He added, "Although we don't know it yet, it is well within the realm of possibility that this coronavirus, when our population-level immunity gets high enough, this coronavirus will find a way to get around our immunity. If that happened, we'd be in the same situation as with flu. We'll have to chase the virus and, as it mutates, we'll have to tinker with our vaccine."
Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told the outlet that he believes the Houston paper "highlights the fact that, with respect to SARS-CoV-2, we need to remain vigilant, and increase our capacity to monitor the virus for mutations."