askST: How many variants are there of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19

Researchers have released findings about mutating strains of the virus. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

All viruses mutate. Researchers who analysed and tracked Sars-CoV-2 - the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 - have released findings about mutating strains of the virus even before Malaysian and Philippine health authorities announced they had seen patients with mutations of the virus.


The original strain found in China when Covid-19 first emerged in January was dubbed D614.

G614 - often referred to as the "G strain" - is a mutated variant which was prevalent across Europe and North America by May. This strain has been more virulent - infecting more people and has been found in more places - than the original one.

Researchers say there is another strain now, D614G, that is even more prevalent in the world. This is the one that the Malaysian health authorities on Sunday described as 10 times more infectious. Some scientists claim the D614G variant has been circulating in South-east Asia as early as February.


While the variants are more contagious, there is no evidence suggesting that they are more deadly than earlier versions. For example, multiple studies have shown the G strain to produce more of the virus in the human body than the D strain but did not lead to higher hospitalisation rates.

Dr Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist and lead author of a study on D614G, said in an interview in July: "It is the dominant virus in the world. It only took about a month for that to happen and it is now the one we should be looking at."

Virologists at US-based Scripps Research, in a study published in July, found that viruses with the D614G mutation were far more infectious than the others.

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But some have scientists argued that just because one strain travels further, it does not necessarily mean it is more infectious. The quality of healthcare and the capacity to handle an outbreak should also be taken into consideration.


Changes in preventive measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 will not make a difference, whether the virus is more infectious or not, scientists said.

"The basic pillars of prevention and control of Covid-19 remain the same," Dr Sanjay Rampal, an epidemiologist with Universiti Malaya, said in an interview, adding that the authorities could instead improve its capacity for screening, contact tracing and treatment.

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