Covid-19: ‘We have to assume the virus has attenuated’

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Covid-19 has likely become less potent as it mutates over time, and hopefully one day will become a common cold virus, a New Zealand, London-based professor says. 

New Zealander Gary McLean, a professor in molecular immunology at London Metropolitan University, told Sunday Morning he was inclined to believe Zangrillo, whose claim was backed up by a second doctor from northern Italy who said he was also seeing the coronavirus weaken.

“They’ve experienced the full gamut of this virus and the effects and I think we have to believe what they’re saying, the clinical picture that is. If they’re seeing reduced severity there must be something to it. 

“It’s really difficult to know why exactly at this point, because there’s a lot of reasons why it could be and there’s no scientific literature, peer-reviewed papers that really document this, but if the clinicians are saying that I have to think it’s probably real.”

The virus may well have changed or attenuated causing a change in the clinical picture, McLean said. 

“I would probably favour that in some way the virus is attenuating itself, just by accumulating mutations over time…and these little mutations accumulate and eventually the virus has had long enough in that host, in humans, it will drift and change slightly,” McLean said. 

Gary McLean said there were 40 known coronaviruses, including seven which have infected humans, including four which are endemic cold viruses which cause relatively mild symptoms. 

“One could argue originally those four might have been similar to SARS1, MERS and SARS2, and they attenuated themselves and became just a mild common cold.”

One of the endemic strains, OC43, has been mapped back in time and the common ancestor is a cow coronavirus thought to have jumped into humans in 1890, McLean said. 

“And coincidentally in 1890 there was a world-wide pandemic of a respiratory disease that killed one million people. And you can put one and one together and assume OC43 may have come from a pandemic and over the next 130 years it’s evolved into a very mild, common cold virus,” McLean said. 

“And I’m hoping it doesn’t take 130 years for this one to get that mild, but let’s say it might take a year or so and we’re going to have another common cold coronavirus. 

“So I’d like to predict that but I don’t know for sure if that will happen.”

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