'More Studies Needed On Virus Mutations'-Assoc.Prof Dr Chee Hui Yee | FACULTY OF MEDICINE AND HEALTH SCIENCES
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'More studies needed on virus mutations'-Assoc.Prof Dr Chee Hui Yee

KUALA LUMPUR: THERE is no reason to panic over any mutation of Covid-19 following a report that Peking University has discovered two strains of the superspreading virus.

Virologist Dr Chee Hui Yee, who studied the report for the New Straits Times, said genetic variations commonly occurred when viruses spread from host to host.

“This is common. While the virus replicates itself and spreads from one host to another, there might be some mutations.”

“But as far as how virulent or antigenic they are, that needs to be studied further.”

Dr Chee said the variation or shift in amino acids documented in the findings was not proof of a new strain or the harbinger of a possible new wave in the Covid-19 outbreak.

“They used computer and bioinformatics to do the analysis and crunch data.

“It’s suggesting two strains, but not conclusively stating that there is a new one.”

“If you look at the summary, there is a difference in the amino acids, but more data is needed for a conclusive discovery.”

CNBC reported that the university’s School of Life Sciences and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai found two strains of the coronavirus that could be causing the worldwide outbreak.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry must analyse the scientific journal detailing the university’s study before using it as a basis in its research on the coronavirus.

“We need to read the journal before commenting,” he told the NST in a WhatsApp message.

He said the Institute of Medical Research was isolating the virus and exploring its serology, as well as looking at its genomics and mapping, as part of a mission to assist the global community in coming up with a cure or vaccine.

“But ‘novel’ means new, so there is a lot we need to learn on this new virus.”

It was reported that research indicated that a more aggressive type of the coronavirus had accounted for 70 per cent of analysed strains, while 30 per cent had been linked to a less aggressive category.

The more aggressive type of the virus was found to be prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, the Chinese city where Covid-19 was first detected late last year.

However, the frequency of the emergence of the aggressive virus strain was found to have decreased from early January.

Virologist Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar from Universiti Malaysa’s Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre said the update was not surprising and it was typical of pathogens’ evolutionary cycle to become less virulent to ensure their survival through that of their hosts.

“It is not in the interest of the virus to kill the host because it will die as well. Through their evolutionary process, viruses tend to accommodate the hosts to live in them.

“This means they want to cause mild diseases to propagate and that will ensure they can survive.”

Dr Sazaly said as more people were infected, the virus became less virulent.

He said this was because it spread and purged faster from one’s system, unlike virulent viruses such as Ebola and the Nipah virus.

“As more people survive Covid-19, I won’t be surprised that the virus that survives is the one less virulent, as all viruses follow the same pattern. This is so it can exist in perpetuity.”

He drew on the World Health Organisation’s report that 82 per cent of the cases reported displayed very mild symptoms, which required little or no medical intervention.

He said if Peking University’s report was true, it could indicate that there was some hope on the horizon for the outbreak to dissipate.

Findings of the report said the development of new variations in the spike of Covid-19 cases were “likely caused by mutations and natural selection besides recombination”.

Researchers, however, cautioned that data examined in the study was “very limited”, adding that follow-up studies of a larger set of data would be needed to gain a “better understanding” of the evolution and epidemiology of Covid-19.

Date of Input: 10/03/2020 | Updated: 10/03/2020 | norashiqin

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