Scientists say they have discovered what they believe is a mutated strain of COVID-19 — and are now warning that this new strain could be way more contagious than plain old coronavirus.
What are the details?
According to a Tuesday report in the Los Angeles Times, researchers say that a new "mutant" strain of coronavirus has emerged.
The study, led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reveals that the new strain is more contagious than versions that spread in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to being more contagious, the new strain could reportedly make people more vulnerable to a second infection after a "first bout with the disease."
The study was published on Thursday in BioRxiv and has yet to be peer-reviewed, but researchers said they felt an "urgent need for an early warning" to advise people of the potential danger of the new strain.
The outlet reported, "Wherever the new strain appeared, it quickly infected far more people than the earlier strains that came out of Wuhan, China, and within weeks, it was the only strain that was more prevalent in some nations. ... The new strain's dominance over its predecessors demonstrates that it is more infectious."
"The report was based on a computational analysis of more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences from around the world, collected by the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza Data," the Times added. "Time and time again, the analysis found the new version was transitioning to become dominant."
At the time of this writing, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimate at least 3,606,038 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed around the world, with at least 252,151 deaths because of the virus.
Study leader Bette Korber — who is a computational biologist — addressed the study on her Facebook page, the outlet reported.
“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," Korber wrote. “When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible."
She also pointed out that she is very concerned over the study's results.
“This is hard news," she continued, “but please don't only be disheartened by it. Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can."
Korber said that it is of utmost importance to remain aware and with a fluid, working knowledge of the disease and its metamorphosis.
"We cannot afford to be blindsided as we move vaccines and antibodies into clinical testing," Korber insisted. “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."