By Eamonn Burke
A mutation of the COVID-19 virus called D614G has been discovered in Southeast Asia, mostly in Malaysia and the Philippines but also in China. The outbreak can be traced back to a man who did not quarantine after his trip from India, causing a 45-case outbreak in Malaysia. The man has since been fined and sentenced to five months in prison. D614G is the leading strain in the United States and Europe, after being discovered in Chicago in June. Now the mutation is quickly spreading across Asia and the entire world.
The mutation is estimated to be up to 10 times more infectious, but “We still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” says Phillipines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Verviers. A study from Johns Hopkins points to evidence showing that the new virus is not more deadly than the previous strain. Benjamin Cowling of University of Hong Kong agreed: “(D614G) might be a little bit more contagious. We haven’t yet got enough evidence to evaluate that.” A Cell Press paper also corroborates this, saying that the strain will most likely not impact vaccine development. However, Malaysia’s Director-General of Health, Noor Hisham, warns that this may mean that vaccine studies may be incomplete without accounting for the new strain.
A mutating virus is far from an exceptional thing, because it is how they can continue to spread. In fact, the genome of the coronavirus changes about 2 times a month, according to Science Magazine. Some of them help the virus reproduce, others damage it, and some are neutral. These changes can be just a single letter in the genetic code, but it can make the virus much more transmissible. Dr Thushan de Silva, at the University of Sheffield, says that there is not enough evidence to say whether the D614G mutation helps or harms the virus, but he knows that it is not neutral.
This comes as the FDA has just granted emergency authorization for COVID-19 spit tests, which will make testing much easier and much wider spread. The SalivaDirect test, developed at Yale University, will expedite testing by eliminating a time consuming step in the process.
Meanwhile, the United States passes 170,000 deaths from the virus, with infections of children rising as they return to school. New information from the CDC says that rates of COVID-19 in children are increasing. While they make up only 7% of cases in the country, they are responsible for over 20% of them. In addition to this, and in contrast to previous beliefs, “Recent evidence suggests that children likely have the same or higher viral loads in their nasopharynx compared with adults and that children can spread the virus effectively in households and camp settings.”
Data to reinforce this claim can be found in the rising cases among children at schools that have already reopened, including 7,000 in Alabama. Many schools have debated or committed to reversing course and going online. These rising cases correlating with schools reopening “may explain the low incidence in children compared with adults,” says the CDC, suggesting that children’s perceived resistance to transmitting the virus may have been partly a result of simply staying inside – a sobering reminder of the ever changing narrative of COVID-19.