Scientists say more contagious mutant strain of coronavirus is sweeping globe
Scientists say a more contagious mutant strain of coronavirus has been sweeping Europe and the USA – and could re-infect those who already have antibodies.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US detected 14 mutations in the COVID-19 virus spike proteins, one of which - known as Spike D614G - they said was of "urgent concern".
Their research paper suggests the mutated strain of coronavirus that has become dominant across the world was first identified in Europe and is different to those which spread early on in the pandemic.
So urgent is the issue that the research paper describing their findings has been made available before being peer-reviewed, although this has caused concern among some observers.
By analysing more than 6,000 genetic sequences of coronavirus samples taken from patients globally, the researchers found the mutated strain was persistently becoming the most dominant version of the virus in every region it was detected in.
While first discovered in Europe in early February, the researchers believe the coronavirus mutation has now become the most prevalent strain across the whole of the world.
The study indicates it has been consistently out-competing the original strain detected in Wuhan, which spread through that region of China and some other Asian countries before March.
Dr Bette Korber, the study's lead author, said: "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.
"When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible."
The mutation to the spike protein has caused concern because this is one of the most effective parts of the virus, and the aspect which most treatments and vaccines are targeting.
However, the fact the team's findings have not yet been peer-reviewed has concerned some observers, who fear the potentially alarming report should be rigorously analysed before being made public.
There have been nearly four million coronavirus cases across the world, with more than 258,000 deaths. The UK now has the highest death tally in Europe with more than 29,000 fatalities.