A new study by Italian researchers suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic that now causes a global health crisis, is relatively slow to mutate, meaning that any effective vaccine that Developed to prevent people from contracting the infection, it should be widely effective in geographically separated populations and for a relatively long period of time.
This is heartening news, especially given that other viruses can be quick to mutate.
Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told The Washington Post that there are only about four to 10 genetic differences between the strains infecting people in the US and the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China.
The differences between the two virus samples were very small, in terms of genetic variation: only five new variants appeared in the later Italian samples, which is an early indication that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus remains quite stable even in the course of a long transmission train through multiple individuals and populations.
It would be more like the measles or chickenpox vaccines, he said - something that likely would confer immunity for a long time.
There are already a lot of vaccines and treatments against the coronavirus that are now in development, but medical experts till estimate that it will be at least a year to 18 months before a particular vaccine or cure to be available.
Experts say that it is pretty much possible hat a small kind od mutation in the novel coronavirus can have some effects on the clinical results of COVID-19. "It's great news", Thielen said.
"The virus has not mutated to any significant extent", Perlman told the newspaper.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there are just over 8,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and 423 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine real-time map.
"Flu does have one trick up its sleeve that coronaviruses do not have - the flu virus genome is broken up into several segments, each of which codes for a gene. When two flu viruses are in the same cell, they can swap some segments, potentially creating a new combination instantly - this is how the H1N1 "swine" flu originated", Neuman explained. But there's no sign that it is happening with the new coronavirus.
"So far, we don't have any evidence linking a specific virus [strain] to any disease severity score", Thielen said.