COVID-19 unlikely to get more dangerous, say experts

March 26, 2020
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Experts who have been tracking the coronavirus spread have concluded that the virus is stable in its current form, and therefore unlikely to get even more dangerous as it continues to spread because it mutates at a slower rate than the other respiratory viruses like the flu.

Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at Johns Hopkins University, said analysis of 1,000 different samples of the new coronavirus revealed only four to 10 genetic differences between the strains that have infected people across the globe and the original virus that spread in Wuhan.

“At this point, the mutation rate of the virus would suggest that the vaccine developed for SARS-CoV-2 would be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year like the flu vaccine,” Thielen said.

Trevor Bedford, a scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, tweeted that the flu virus, by contrast, “mutates about once every 10 days across its genome.”

Most of those mutations are inconsequential, he wrote on Twitter, but occasionally one will appear that undermines people’s existing immunity to the flu. That’s why we have to get a new flu shot every year, and also why flu vaccines aren’t always 100% effective.

But coronaviruses, on the whole, are “somewhat less prone to mutation than flu,” Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, previously told Business Insider. The new coronavirus is unlikely to mutate every season, Morse added.

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