August 18, 2020 -- A particular strain of the coronavirus seems to be causing the latest outbreaks in Southeast Asia, and scientists there are trying to understand whether the mutation is more infectious.
The strain, which originated in Europe and is the main variant in the U.S., has circled back to countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia, which are recording new COVID-19 cases, according to Bloomberg News.
Scientists found the strain, called D614G, in a cluster of 45 cases in Malaysia that came from someone who traveled to India and didn’t follow quarantine rules upon return. Researchers in the Philippines found the strain in various COVID-19 samples in Manila. The strain has also been found in recent outbreaks in China.
“People need to be wary and take greater precautions because this strain has now been found in Malaysia,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, the country’s director-general of health, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.
He said that the strain could be related to “super spreader” events, but others aren’t so sure. They’re still studying whether the mutation could be more infectious or whether people may transmit it more easily.
“We still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Maria Rosario Vergeire, the health undersecretary for the Philippines, said during a briefing on Monday, Bloomberg reported.
The D614G variant has become the most common worldwide, according to a research report published by WHO in June. So far, the WHO has said there’s no evidence that the mutation has become more infectious or that it leads to severe disease.
Even still, the WHO report mentions that a mutation could hinder the efficacy of vaccine. Another paper, published in the journal Cell in July, also said the mutation should be considered during current vaccine clinical trials. Essentially, researchers need to fill in the “critical gaps,” wrote the epidemiologists from the Yale School of Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health and Columbia School of Public Health.
“Many questions remain on the potential impacts, if any, that D614G has on the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.