A mutation of the novel coronavirus increasingly common throughout Europe and recently detected in Malaysia may be more infectious but appears less deadly, according to a prominent infectious diseases doctor.
Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the US-based International Society of Infectious Diseases, said the D614G mutation has also been found in Singapore.
The city-state’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tambyah said there is evidence the proliferation of the mutation in Europe has coincided with a drop in death rates, suggesting it is less lethal.
The mutation is not likely to impact the efficacy of a potential vaccine, despite warnings to the contrary from other health experts, he added.
“Maybe that’s a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly,” Tambyah told Reuters.
Tambyah said most viruses tend to become less virulent as they mutate.
“It is in the virus’ interest to infect more people but not to kill them because a virus depends on the host for food and for shelter,” he said.
Scientists discovered the mutation as early as February and it has circulated in Europe and the Americas, the World Health Organization said. The WHO has also said there is no evidence the mutation has led to more severe disease.
On Sunday, Malaysia’s director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah urged greater public vigilance after authorities detected what they believe was the D614G mutation of the coronavirus in two recent clusters.
Noor Hisham said the new strain detected was 10 times more infectious and that vaccines currently in development may not be effective against this mutation.
But Tambyah said such mutations would not likely change the virus enough to make potential vaccines less effective.
“The mutant affects the binding of the spike protein and not necessarily the recognition of the protein by the immune system, which would be primed by a vaccine,” he said.