The coronavirus has kept the science community on their toes with everything from new symptoms to finding a safe and reliable vaccine. But as viruses tend to do, SARS-CoV-2 itself has changed in the months since it began spreading around the globe. Now, Anthony Fauci, MD, says that there’s something in particular about the latest COVID mutation that worries him: “It might be a bit more transmissible.” Read on to find out how, and for more from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said the 4 Words You’ve Been Waiting to Hear.
During a video interview with students and faculty from College of the Holy Cross on Oct. 6, Fauci was asked about the different strains of the novel coronavirus that now exist and whether or not the mutations had made it more virulent or harder to develop an effective vaccine against.
He explained that the latest COVID mutation could mean the virus might now be able to spread more easily, saying that “there is the assumption, although not completely proven yet, that if anything this is more transmissible.”
“When the scientists examined [the new mutation], they found that that new strain—which is now prevalent throughout the world [after] it kind of bumped the original strain out—and in vitro, not in a person yet—replicates better and binds more efficiently to the receptors on a variety of cells that were grown in culture,” Fauci explains.
But the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) also had a bit of good news, assuring “there are not more virulent strains out there.”
“Viruses, when they permeate society, rarely become more virulent. Generally they become less virulent as they adapt themselves with greater transmissibility,” Fauci explained. “I just think what you’re going to see is that it might be a bit more transmissible, at least according to the receptor binding, but we have to look at that in a more physiological way.”
Fauci’s comments back up recent findings that the newly mutated strain of COVID-19 is likely more contagious, although less deadly than the original. Scientists even think that the mutated virus could help produce better immune responses among patients. The strain also isn’t so radically altered that it makes it impossible to vaccinate against.
The mutation “is making the particles more infectious,” Jeremy Luban, MD, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told the journal Nature. “We need to keep our eyes open for additional changes.”
Now, scientists say they need more experiments that replicate real-world transmission to verify these assumptions about the latest COVID mutation. And for more on the virus’s movement, check out These Are the States Where COVID Deaths Are Rising Right Now.