Coronavirus mutation has begun. What next?
In the next episode of the most unusual year that human history has ever witnessed, the notorious coronavirus has started mutating. Mutation of coronavirus has formed a new variant of COVID-19 which is almost 70% more contagious and is now prevailing in every part of the UK except Northern Ireland, says an expert to Sky News.
But the mutating coronavirus isn’t more dangerous in its symptoms and effects, only more transferable. At least medical science knows only this much as of now.
A strain of coronavirus mutation does not make it dangerous until and unless it is causing severe effects on humans. The news of coronavirus mutation is real but what’s more important is how it affects humans? This article will help you to know all the aspects of coronavirus mutation, including its transmissibility.
As per the virologists, the newly developed coronavirus vaccines will remain effective; they may require further adjustments down the line. Undoubtedly, this coronavirus mutation may act as a catalyst to the infection and increase the severity but can be resolved.
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What do we know about the coronavirus mutations?
After an initial analysis of a new coronavirus mutation variant named VUI-202012/01, 17 potentially essential alterations have been identified. Out of which one is the key that coronavirus uses to unlock the doorway to the human body cells; changes to the spike protein.
One of its mutations, known as N501Y, alters the essential part of the spike of coronavirus known as ‘receptor-binding domain.’ It is a part of the virus that makes the first contact with the human cells. Mutation in this part can make it easy for the virus to enter the body. Any change that enhances the ability of the coronavirus’s spike to enter human cells can be dangerous.
"It looks and smells like an important adaptation," says Prof Loman.
The other mutation known as H69/V70 involves removing the small part of the spike, which has emerged many times in the past. This mutation showed an increase in infectivity twice in lab experiments, says Prof Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge. “This is a perfectly natural process. This is survival of the fittest,” he added.
Studies also added deletion of the coronavirus spike makes antibodies of the blood of the infected patient less effective at attacking the virus.
Professor Gupta added, “it is rapidly increasing, that's what's worried government, we are worried, most scientists are worried.”
However, the concerned matter is, US scientists, such as Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams and former Food and Drug Administration(FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the existing vaccines would work on the new variant.
Additionally, Professor David Robertson, from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, has said the virus would probably be able to develop vaccine escape mutants, but this will take a very long time.
Where did the new variant of Covid-19 originate?
Geographically, the coronavirus mutation originated in Southeast England and has been identified in parts of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia. The technical answer to the question is the variant developed in a patient with a weak immune system. His immune system was so weak that it was unable for the defense system to fight against the coronavirus. Consequently, the body became a breeding ground for the coronavirus to mutate.
How do coronavirus mutates?
When a human body develops antibodies to deal with the virus, these viruses try to change their envelope or outer surfaces in order to avoid being recognized by antibodies and immune cells. Thus, this technique of surviving the virus by changing the outer protein surface or developing new strains helps them remain protected from the immune system.
After dodging the immune system in an infected individual, these viruses use a host cell to replicate. This is done by introducing genetic information from their(virus) nucleus into the infected host cell. With this procedure's help, the coronavirus helps to mutate, producing millions of copies of the virus.
During this process, a small copying error occurs every time they reproduce, and each of these errors changes the genetic code of the virus. Therefore, these viruses not only reproduce but also manage to change their genetic code every damn time.
How do we know coronavirus mutation is upto 70% more transmissible?
The figure of 70% mutation of the coronavirus was mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This R number is called the Basic Reproduction Number, a mathematical number to indicate how transmissible the infection is.
The latest(18 December 2020) R number and the UK's growth rate were calculated as 1.1 to 1.2 (+1% to 4%). This means on an average scale, for every 10 people infected, between 11 and 12 other people. This result appeared in a presentation by Dr. Erik Volz, Imperial College London.
But there are still unanswered questions about whether the coronavirus is more infectious or not.
Why is this mutation causing concern?
There are three fundamental reasons which make this coronavirus mutation a matter of concern, such as:-
- It is frequently replacing other versions of the virus
- The process of mutation enhances the important part of the virus that helps in mutation; protein surface
- Some of the coronavirus mutations have examined in the lab about the increasing ability of the virus to infect healthy cells
Why does this coronavirus mutation spread faster?
The coronavirus mutation process involves changing the virus's protein surface or developing a new strain to remain protected from the immune system. During this process of replication, gene deletion takes place with every mutation.
This deletion of the gene involves missing two amino acids, making it easier and faster for the virus to spread. As per the British researchers, COVID-19 Genomics Consortium published a detailed profile of the new B1.1.7 cluster, including the gene deletion description.
Similar deletion has already been observed in East Asia during the summer. However, such mutated coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes a mild infection because such mutations make the coronavirus weak.
Has such a mutation occured before?
Yes, this is not something new to medical science; such mutation of viruses has also occurred before. Some examples of other viruses that show mutations are:-
- Influenza viruses: It is of three types and consists of 7-8 RNA segments enclosed within an envelope of proteins.
- HIV viruses: The virus mutates in billions of copies of itself every day.
Ame goes with the coronavirus mutation, with every mutation, the virus gene code changes. Thus, the virus detected first in Wuhan, China, is not the same you will find in other parts of the world.
Both the types of coronaviruses are different from one another as they spread through mutation, and every time they mutate, they change their characteristics by changing their gene code.
The D614G mutation that occurred in Europe during February became the globally dominant form of the virus. Another mutation known as A222V that occurred in Europe was linked to people's summer holidays in Spain.
Does this mutation make the infection more deadly?
There is no such evidence to suggest that it does, whereas this will require monitoring of the infection.
However, just because the virus is spreading and gets transmitted easily doesn’t mean it is dangerous. There is not enough evidence to know the exact severity caused by the virus.
If people are infected more quickly because of this coronavirus mutation, that would, in turn, lead to more people needing hospital treatment.
Will the vaccines work against this coronavirus mutation?
Yes, for now, we can say the vaccine will work against the mutating coronavirus. All leading vaccines have managed to develop an immune response against the existing spike.
These vaccines train the human immune system to attack several different parts of the virus. Thus, even some parts of the spike have mutated, the vaccines should still work.
Vaccine escape happens when the virus changes, so it dodges the vaccine's full effect and continues to infect people.
How does the body react to mutations?
Normally, the human body can protect itself against viruses. It produces antibodies to defend against viral attacks and trigger immunity to the pathogen.
However, if the pathogen has mutated and has changed its gene code, but the body's antibodies are of the older version of the pathogen, they will become less effective in front of the new mutated virus.
This is the reason why humans regularly get the common cold. Our body has already formed antibodies for previous colds, but we haven't yet developed new antibodies for the newly mutated pathogen.
But there's no reason to panic, a virus doesn't necessarily become more dangerous through mutation. Some modifications can also significantly weaken a virus.
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