NUcheckt: No indications that mutation makes coronavirus less deadly | NOW


NUcheckt checks messages for their reliability. This time, we look at the claim that the coronavirus has become less pathogenic. There appear to be no indications for this.

The Dutch Association of Internists reported at the end of September that patients who are admitted to hospital with COVID-19 appear to be less seriously ill and should be referred to intensive care less often. The internist association itself had no explanation for this and emphasized that research into this is important. Still, several readers on our response platform NUjij firmly concluded that the coronavirus had changed and become less dangerous. There appear to be no clear indications for this.

“The population composition has not changed, the virus has. The only explanation is that the virus has mutated into a less serious variant. ”

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Changes often not worth mentioning

Eric Snijder, professor of molecular virology at the Leiden University Medical Center, explains that viruses are constantly changing a little bit. The corona virus has therefore also changed since March. But this certainly does not automatically mean that the corona virus has become less pathogenic.

A virus changes as follows: if you are infected with a virus, the virus will multiply in your cells. For this, the genetic material of the virus must also be copied. A number of mistakes are always made. Over time, the corona virus changes more and more. These errors are also called mutations.

Many mutations have no influence: there is a change in the genetic material of the virus, but the parts that make up the virus do not change.

In addition, according to Snijder, we usually do not know what effect they have for many mutations that do cause minor changes. There are many possible changes and we do not know these types of viruses well enough to predict the effect of each change.

No indications that coronavirus is less deadly

Snijder writes that there are no indications that a change has taken place between March and now, making the corona virus less pathogenic.

According to Snijder, the consequences of a coronavirus infection may now seem smaller because COVID-19 patients are on average younger than in March and April, because more people are tested and therefore possibly faster at a doctor if COVID-19 complaints worsen and because there are there are more treatment options in the hospital. Ernst Kuipers, chairman of the National Network Acute Care, also emphasized in the Lower House last week that there are no indications that the corona virus itself is less dangerous.

What about the different variants?

Singaporean infectiologist Paul Tambyah suggested in August that a certain variant of the coronavirus, which is now common in Europe and the US, would be less deadly than other variants of the virus. However, there is no evidence for this and it is unclear what Tambyah based his statement on.

Snijder explains that in laboratory animals indications have been found that the coronavirus variant to which Tambyah refers, spreads a little more easily.

Moreover, says Snijder, this variant was already widespread in the Netherlands in February and March, before the first corona peak. British research, pre-published online, found no difference in risk of death between people who got this variant of the coronavirus and people infected with another variant.

Will the corona virus be harmless in the future?

So the coronavirus itself has probably not changed in such a way that it is less dangerous. But what about the future? According to Snijder, it is uncertain whether the virus will become milder in the future. Snijder emphasizes that the corona virus is already mild for a large proportion of infected people.

“Everyone hopes of course to find indications that the coronavirus is developing into a harmless virus.” But, if this is going to happen at all, it will be a matter of many years rather than weeks or months, according to Snijder.

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