Coronavirus mutating to survive and spread faster, scientists believe

Coronavirus Possibly Adapting to Mask-Wearing Social Distancing Say Scientists

"We were surprised to find that one standard test that quantifies the variation in size of red blood cells - called red cell distribution width, or RDW - was highly correlated with patient mortality, and the correlation persisted when controlling for other identified risk factors like patient age, some other lab tests, and some pre-existing illnesses", says co-author on the new study, Jonathan Carlson.

Academics at Houston Methodist Hospital - who carried out the first-of-its-kind study - said patients infected with the variant strain had significantly higher amounts of the virus when they were first diagnosed.

The study also noted that in some regions there were many mutations, possibly hinting that the virus is changing its order to counter the body's immune system. Mutations take place when a virus replicates and, after infecting more than 30 million people, coronavirus has had plenty of opportunities to mutate.

Though the strain isn't more deadly, researchers said it appeared to have adapted better to spread among humans.

"We found little evidence of a significant relationship between virus genotypes and altered virulence, stressing the linkage between disease severity, underlying medical conditions, and host genetics", according to the study.

Senior author Dr John M Higgins, an investigator in the department of pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "We wanted to help find ways to identify high-risk Covid patients as early and as easily as possible - who is likely to become severely ill and may benefit from aggressive interventions, and which hospitalised patients are likely to get worse most quickly".

The first study to analyse the structure of the novel coronavirus from two waves of infection in a major city found that a more contagious strain dominates recent samples, researchers from Houston Methodist Hospital said on Wednesday, reports Reuters. If mutations affect this, the challenge will be to manufacture the vaccine. Because of this, it can now evade rescue procedures like wearing masks and washing hands.

Things could always change, and we should be prepared for the worst.

"But every mutation is a roll of the dice, and with the transmission so widespread in the U.S. - which continues to see tens of thousands of new, confirmed infections daily - the virus has had abundant opportunities to change, potentially with troublesome consequences", Musser said.