A top US disease expert has said COVID-19 has evolved into a more infectious strain, which could explain why some countries have seen larger death tolls than others.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday (local time) research suggests Italy was hit by a different strain of coronavirus than the one which originated in Wuhan, China.
The Doctor referenced an article published in a scientific journal during an interview with the American Medical Association that pointed to a new strain of the virus, which carries a higher viral load, making human transmission more likely.
“The data is showing there’s a single mutation that makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads,” Dr Fauci said.
"It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible.”
The study released by researches affiliated with the Sheffield COVID-19 Genomics Group stated the new strain "has become the most prevalent form in the global pandemic."
Although The World Health Organisation (WHO) have cautioned there is no evidence the prevalent strain is more severe.
WHO said data from samples of COVID-19 virus have shown signs of mutation, but there is no evidence this has led to more severe disease.
“I think it’s quite widespread,” Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said on Friday.
The U.N. agency has so far collected 60,000 samples of the disease, she said.
Scientists at Scripps Research this month found that by April the mutated virus accounted for some 65 per cent of cases submitted from around the world to a major database.
The genetic mutation in the new coronavirus, designated D614G, significantly increases its ability to infect cells and may explain why outbreaks in northern Italy and New York were larger than ones seen earlier in the pandemic, they found in a study.
Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, said at Friday’s briefing the mutated strain had been identified as early as February and had been circulating in Europe and the Americas.
“So far, there is no evidence it leads to more severe disease,” she said.
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