cases around the world are now at over 10.6 million, and now a new study suggests that most of those cases are caused by a new, more infection strain of the virus.
Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Duke University and University of Sheffield claim that a new variant called ‘D614G’ is now the most common strain.
This variant includes a small but effective change in the ‘spike’ proteins on the virus’ surfaces, making it easier to enter and infect human cells.
Dr Thushan de Silva, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Sheffield, said: “We have been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 strains in Sheffield since early in the pandemic and this allowed us to partner with our collaborators to show this mutation had become dominant in circulating strains.
“The full peer-reviewed study published today confirms this, and also that the new D614G genome mutation variant is also more infectious under laboratory conditions.
“Data provided by our team in Sheffield suggested that the new strain was associated with higher viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of patients with Covid-19, meaning the virus’s ability to infect people could be increased.”
In the study, the researchers analysed viral data from around the world through the GISAID database.
The database includes tens of thousands of viral sequences, allowing researchers to estimate how the virus behaves around the world.
Dr Bette Korber, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said: “It is possible to track SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) evolution globally because researchers worldwide are rapidly making their viral sequence data available through the GISAID viral sequence database.
“Currently tens of thousands of sequences are available through this project, and this enabled us to identify the emergence of a variant that has rapidly become the globally dominant form.”
Thankfully, while the new strain is more infectious, the researchers don’t believe that it causes more severe disesase.
Dr de Silva added: “Fortunately at this stage, it does not seem that viruses with D614G cause more severe disease.”