A new study conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory has identified a new strain of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious than previous versions that spread during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Researchers found that this new strain, called D614G. could also make people more vulnerable for a second bout with the virus. It is unclear how D614G affects a person's body, compared to previous mutations, but there is a noticeable evolutionary aspect to its development.
Scientists believe this new strain first appeared in Europe in February before coming to the United States, and specifically, the east coast. The study suggests that by mid-March, this new version became the only strain around the world. It also turned into the dominant strain among the 14 mutations in some countries.
"The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form," study leader Bette Korber wrote in a Facebook post, accordinf to the Times. "When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible."
While this is all alarming news, Korber notes that the discovery of this new mutation ultimately helps in determining the effectiveness of a vaccine. "We cannot afford to be blindsided as we move vaccines and antibodies into clinical testing," she wrote. "Please be encouraged by knowing the global scientific community is on this, and we are cooperating with each other in ways I have never seen … in my 30 years as a scientist."
Scientists working on a vaccine were hopeful that the coronavirus wouldn't mutate like the influenza virus, but this latest study could possibly dispel initial evidence. If the virus doesn't diminish as the weather gets warmer, more mutations could be on the horizon.
It's worth noting that there has been some pushback to the report online, with some pointing out that the mutation has already been found in most cases abroad.