Is the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, mutating and if so, does it matter?


A: Yes, since it began spreading, the virus has picked up several mutations, but not necessarily more than expected, and as Ed Yong explains in this article, these changes to the virus are not necessarily cause for alarm.

Key Points:

-When viruses infect a host, they make new copies and while duplicating their genes, mutations often happen (this occurs naturally as viruses spread)

-As a virus spreads, it may branch off into ‘lineages’ that are characterized by different sets of mutations that have occurred

-Mutations are only of concern if they represent a change in the way the virus functions substantially (i.e., how easily it spreads, how severe of disease it causes, whether the immune system can recognize it and whether it is resistant to medications) and if this occurs, this might be considered a new strain

-While one branch of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (i.e., the G lineage with D614G mutation) has become more dominant in Europe, North American and Australia this doesn’t necessarily mean this mutation causes the virus to be more transmissible, or should be considered a new strain. The wider spread of this lineage could just reflect the patterns of travel among individuals who were infected with the version of the virus containing this mutation.

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