The coronavirus may have mutated to become more infectious, says Dr. Anthony Fauci

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases prepares to testify before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, June 30, 2020.Kevin Dietsch | Reuters

The coronavirus has mutated in a way that could help the pathogen spread more easily, White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday.Research is underway to confirm the possible mutation and its implications, said Fauci, adding that “there is a small dispute over this.” Viruses mutate naturally, and scientists have previously reported seeing minor mutations in the coronavirus that did not significantly affect its ability to spread or cause disease.

The possible mutation cited by Fauci was reported by investigators from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in an article published Thursday by the journal Cell. Virologists at Scripps Research in Florida also wrote about the mutation last month, saying it “improves viral transmission.” It is not known when the mutation may have occurred.

“The data shows that there is only one mutation that allows the virus to replicate better and possibly have high viral loads,” said Fauci in an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner of the Journal of American Medical Association. “We have no connection with whether an individual is degraded by it or not; it just seems that the virus replicates better and can be more transmissible. “

He added that the researchers are “still at the stage of trying to confirm this.”

The World Health Organization and its team of global researchers are monitoring more than 60,000 different genetic sequences for the coronavirus collected from samples collected around the world.

All viruses evolve or mutate throughout their lifespan. RNA viruses like coronavirus mutate faster than some other viruses, WHO officials told reporters last month because unlike human DNA, RNA viruses do not have “checks for natural error “, which means that the virus code cannot correct itself.

Not all mutations will cause a significant change in the behavior of the virus or its impact on humans, WHO said previously. However, the United Nations health agency has put together a comprehensive database of genetic sequences to investigate possible mutations.

Earlier Thursday, WHO chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told reporters at a press conference that “natural mutations” in the virus are to be expected. She explained that there are certain “areas” of the virus that are “more critical”, such as the advanced protein, from which the coronavirus gets its name.

“If major mutations occur in these areas, it could actually affect vaccine development,” she said.

The mutation that the Los Alamos researchers wrote about affects a specific amino acid, the authors of the report wrote. The mutated variant is known as D614G.

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