A new strain of highly-contagious SARS-CoV-2 was recently reported in the UK. The variant is known as B.1.1.7 or VUI-202012/01 and has been identified in COVID-19 patients as early as September. According to The New York Times, as viruses impact populations and replicate, mutations occur, and this new variant is up to 70 percent more transmissible.
A college professor using the TikTok account @scitimewithtracy, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology, showed a visual representation of how this virus can mutate to become more infectious and attach to our cells. The expert explained many of the cells in our bodies have ACE2 proteins (short for receptors called “angiotensin-converting enzyme 2“), which act as doorways for the spike protein of the novel coronavirus to latch onto — this is how the SARS-CoV-2 virus can get into cell membranes and cause COVID-19.
In the video above, the professor with over 125K followers explained that when the shape of an ACE2 protein or spike protein is altered, it can be easier or more difficult for them to bind together. “Infectious means you need fewer viral particles in order to cause disease,” the professor said. “What probably happened is that the spike protein mutation in the UK changed the confirmation so that this virus can now bind a little better, and therefore you need fewer viral particles and it’s more infectious.”
In a followup video, the professor explained that just because the new strain is more infectious does not mean it’s more deadly. “The symptom profile once you’re infected seems to be the same,” the expert said. The video also stresses that the COVID-19 vaccine will most likely be effective against the new strain, and other experts told The New York Times similar predictions. Research on this new variant, though, is ongoing at this time.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.