Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by Laboratory scientists. Los Alamos National Park.
The new strain appeared in Europe in February, quickly migrated to the east coast of the United States, and has been the dominant strain worldwide since mid-March, the scientists wrote.
In addition to spreading faster, it can make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first attack with the disease, the report warned.
The 33-page report was published Thursday in BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer-reviewed, an effort to accelerate collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. That research has relied heavily on the genetic sequence of previous strains and may not be effective against the new one.
The mutation identified in the new report affects the now-infamous spikes on the outside of the coronavirus, which allow it to enter human respiratory cells. The report’s authors said they felt an “urgent need for an early warning” for vaccines and drugs in development worldwide to be effective against the mutated strain.
Wherever the new strain appeared, it quickly infected many more people than previous strains that came out of Wuhan, China, and within a few weeks was the only strain prevailing in some nations, according to the report. The new strain’s dominance over its predecessors shows that it is more infectious, according to the report, although exactly why is not yet known.