Over the past few weeks, there have been several promising updates in the fight against COVID-19. Clinical trials are still underway with some initial testing showing positive results for treatments and vaccines. Nevertheless, studies related to the nature of SARS-CoV-2 are still ongoing as virologists attempt to learn everything about it. Given that there are now multiple strains globally, the latest discovery points to a potentially more potent mutation that makes the coronavirus even more contagious.

According to the documents submitted by a research group from Los Alamos National Laboratory, it was first observed in Europe about three months ago. Now, it appears to be responsible for the upsurge of new cases worldwide. This particular variant of the 2019 coronavirus was assigned the name Spike D614G. In addition to being a highly contagious strain, it can supposedly leave those who recovered, prone to a secondary infection.

The findings of the study are available in BioRxiv. It is just a preliminary study that hasn't been peer reviewed yet. Leading the team of researchers is Betty Korber who detailed that "the mutation Spike D614G is of urgent concern; it began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form." Over 6,000 viral sequences sourced from various countries were analysed which identified 14 mutations. Among these, the aforementioned strain was found to be the most prominent in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, it was also noted that Spike D614G likely originated from Italy, which recorded an alarming death rate among its citizens. The original strain that initially hit New York was purportedly overtaken by a new one as it eventually made its way across the United States. Healthcare systems should be aware of mutations as it can critically affect the development of treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus outbreak.

A firefighter in Maryland
A US firefighter in Maryland takes the blood pressure of a suspected COVID-19 patient as he is transported to hospital. Photo: AFP / Alex Edelman

Nevertheless, public health officials urge people to strictly follow the safety guidelines to reduce the rate of transmission to give medical experts time to come up with a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several clinical trials are already moving on to the next phase after reporting success with the preliminary course of medications administered to volunteers. In fact, analysts are even confident that a vaccine will be available sooner than projected.