University of Sheffield has co-authored a bombshell study suggesting the coronavirus has mutated into a more contagious form.
With global cases now topping 10.6m and over 500,000 recorded deaths, scientists are still grappling with understanding the novel virus and preventing a second wave of infections.
Now a joint study from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Duke University and University of Sheffield claims that a new and more contagious variant of the killer bug, called ‘D614G’, has developed.
Research published in the journal Cell says the SARS-CoV-2 genome structure has shifted and a new variant is now the most common.
Known as D614G, it has made a change to the virus’s ‘spike’ protein, which enables the virus to better invade human cells.
Experts now believe it is this variant which is responsible for new localised outbreaks across the globe.
Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study, said: “The D614G variant first came to our attention in early April, as we had observed a strikingly repetitive pattern.
“All over the world, even when local epidemics had many cases of the original form circulating, soon after the D614G variant was introduced into a region it became the prevalent form.
“These findings suggest that the newer form of the virus may be even more readily transmitted than the original form — whether or not that conclusion is ultimately confirmed, it highlights the value of what were already good ideas: to wear masks and to maintain social distancing.”
The variant is believed to be one of four currently circulating with human populations.
Patients from Sheffield with the D variant were said to have higher viral loads in the upper respiratory tract.
Yet work from Sheffield scientists showed even though people were being infected with the D-stain they weren’t necessarily becoming more ill.
Thushan de Silva, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Sheffield, 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’ ability to infect people could be increased
“Fortunately at this stage, it does not seem that viruses with D614G cause more severe disease.”
Now further lab tests on in live cells need to be carried out to determine the full implications of the mutation.
Meanwhile preparations are underway for vaccination programs to get underway in the UK as soon as possible.
Medical technology company Becton Dickinson and Co said on Friday it received an order from the UK government for 65 million injection devices to support Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
The order for 65 million needles and syringes is to be delivered by mid-September, the company said in a statement, adding that it was also working with Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) to expand access to diagnostic testing.
The UK death toll from confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rose to 43,995 on Thursday from 43,906 the day before, government figures showed.