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Friday, May 15, 2020

Do Changes to the COVID-19 Protein Spikes Mean a Second Strain?

I’m a firm believer that there are two sides of the story, and that the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle.  If you had a sibling, you probably recall pointing fingers at each other and yelling “Mom! Kevin stole my cookie” (okay that was me) but tattling on your sibling is like a right of passage. When the tattling stops, that’s when things get interesting. My brother and I became partners in crime, and I am proud to admit, only once did we get caught not having our stories straight and that was early on in our partnership, so it was to be expected!

The same can be said about everything that is published, reported on, and shared via the social channels that so many of us have started getting our information from. Case in point is a new study that discusses the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2.  While it is being shared, it has not yet undergone a peer review.  Regardless, as it is something new about COVID-19 that can be sensationalized, it has been hitting mainstream news.

The researchers shared that they have found that SARS-CoV-2 can mutate into a more contagious strain.  Not only does the mutation cause the virus to be more contagious, but is also might cause people who’ve already had COVID-19 suffer from a second bout of the disease.  Mutations and viruses are not new.  In fact, it is our concern with viral mutations that create a heightened sense of panic and anxiety throughout the infection prevention world, and now with COVID-19, in everyone’s world.  The SARS-CoV-2 strain in question was first found in Europe back in February before it landed on the East Coast of the US.  This has been the main strain around the world since mid-March and seems to have the capability to infect more people than the original strains found in Wuhan, China.

The researchers analyzed more than 6,000 sequences from around the world, and found 14 different mutations on the spike protein which is the part of the virus that allows it to enter human respiratory cells. This does not mean that this strain is more lethal.  The concern is that it may lead to the susceptibility of a second infection for COVID-19 patients.

The question becomes whether the conclusions are sound, or if they are making too large a leap. In an article published by The Atlantic, Lisa Gralinski of the University of North Carolina stated that the conclusions are overblown, cautioning readers that without testing to verify if the new strain and/or any of the mutations are more transmissible can be misleading.  It’s not that the conclusions are not plausible, but that further research is needed to support the conclusion.  The question is whether there is one strain or more than one strain.  Additional experts interviewed by The Atlantic do not feel there is more than one strain.

COVID-19 and the path it has been travelling since it emerged in Wuhan, China is exciting and seductive to some.  For others, it instills fear and anxiety. In the wise words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror paralyzes the needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.  Perhaps, the COVID-19 pandemic and the fear it is generating in many is actually causing more disruption than the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself.

Bugging Off!


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