Infectious COVID-19 Mutation Detected in Malaysia

August 18, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020

A mutation of the CCP virus that is believed to be more infectious than the original strain that first emerged in Wuhan, China, has been detected in Malaysia, health authorities said Sunday.

The D614G mutation that has become increasingly common throughout the United States and Europe, was discovered by the Malaysian Institute for Medical Research in four CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus cases from two clusters in the country, Malaysia’s Health Ministry Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah said Sunday.

“It is found to be 10 times easier to infect other individuals and easier to spread, if spread by ‘super spreader’ individuals,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

Neighboring Philippines, meanwhile, has detected the COVID-19 mutation in a number of samples of the virus. The country is currently studying to determine whether the D614G strain, which has also been found in recent outbreaks in China, is more infectious than the original strain, D614.

Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a virtual briefing Monday that while the mutation is said to have a higher probability of transmission or infectiousness, there is still not enough evidence to say that it will happen, Bloomberg reported.

The mutation was discovered by scientists as early as February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has asserted that there is no solid evidence to suggest the strain has led to more severe disease.

A June study by researchers in the United States suggested that the D614G strain can significantly increase its ability to infect cells. The mutation increased the number of “spikes” on the CCP virus—which is the part that gives it its distinctive shape. Those spikes are what allow the virus to bind to and infect cells.

“The number—or density—of functional spikes on the virus is four or five times greater due to this mutation,” said Hyeryun Choe, one of the senior authors of the study.

Experts at Scripps Research suggested that the study may explain why early outbreaks in some parts of the world did not end up overwhelming health systems as much as other outbreaks in New York and Italy.

The researchers say that it is still unknown whether this small mutation affects the severity of symptoms of infected people, or increases mortality.

The researchers conducting lab experiments say that more research, including controlled studies—widely considered a gold standard for clinical trials, needs to be done to confirm their findings from test tube experiments.

Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president elect of the U.S.-based International Society of Infectious Diseases, said that a mutation is not likely to alter a 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.

Reuters contributed to this report.