NEW ORLEANS —
Researchers at Louisiana State University say the strain of the novella coronavirus infecting the United States and Europe may be a “new and improved” virus that mutated from an original strain from Wuhan, China.
In a statement to media released Tuesday, Professor Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, Head of Genetics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine said that assessment is based on a new study from the Scripps Research Institute. That study reports that a previously discovered mutation to the virus’ spike protein gene makes it more stable and abundant.
Researchers say the spike proteins are how the virus invades human cells.
“It explains, at least in part, why Europe and the U.S. are having a much harder time containing transmission. The virus here is much more infectious,” Dr. Miele said.
Dr. Miele said the study suggests that letting the virus spread freely, hoping for herd immunity is much more dangerous than previously thought.
“Infected cells become virus factories, producing more and more virus. The more viruses are made, the higher the likelihood of new mutations that make the virus even better at spreading, or resistant to treatment,” Dr. Miele said.
Miele said that detecting the virus is not enough and researchers will have to sequence the viral genome to determine how it is mutating. That work will be important to develop vaccines and other potential treatments.