testing for coronavirus at Rambam Hospital

While still very contagious, there are signs the coronavirus is mutating and becoming less deadly. Israeli scientists are trying to establish whether that is truly the case.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Israel’s Health Ministry is checking to confirm indications that the coronavirus is mutating and getting weaker, Times of Israel reported Thursday.

The research is based on claims like that of Italian doctor Prof. Matteo Bassetti, who told the Sunday Telegraph that the power of the coronavirus has gone down from being like “an aggressive tiger in March and April” to being more like “a wild cat.”

Bassetti is the head of infectious diseases at San Martino General Hospital in Genoa. He noted that many patients in their 80s were now recovering to the point that they can sit up in bed and breathe without a ventilator, whereas in the earlier days of the pandemic they would have died.

The ministry is having Israeli researchers compare dozens of recent coronavirus samples with those taken from patients in March to see if COVID-19 is becoming less aggressive.

“The hypothesis is that the virus has attenuated, which means it’s become less virulent, and there may be a genetic signal that shows this,” Tel Aviv University evolutionary virologist Adi Stern told Times of Israel.

If found to be true, it would explain why fewer coronavirus patients in Israel are seriously ill, despite the recent surge in the infection rate, Stern said, adding that a less-potent coronavirus means governments and health authorities could plan accordingly as the pandemic plays out.

The analysis will take several more weeks to get results, but World Health Organization (WHO) official Michael Ryan warned earlier this month that “this is still a killer virus” and nobody should get the idea that coronavirus suddenly became less deadly.

But Dr. David Greenberg, head of pediatrics and the pediatric infectious diseases unit at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, disagrees with the WHO assessment, saying there is sound logic as to why a virus may undergo a softening.

”It [COVID-10] seems to adapt to the human being and doesn’t want to kill the hosts but live on in them and flourish. We can see it all over the world, not just in Israel,” said Greenberg.

He says mutation appears to be the reason fewer older people are becoming deathly ill compared to the situation during the early stages of the pandemic, with many elderly still being infected but showing few or no symptoms.

Dr. Stern says her investigation should help confirm whether or not mutation is a key factor or if improved health practices since the beginning of the crisis have helped improve outcomes.

“A lot of the models that are trying to predict the virus spread, such as how many people with the disease will need hospitalization and ventilation, based on what we’ve seen so far,” Stern said. “If the virus is becoming less virulent, this is important to understand.”


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Source: United with Israel