Researchers from London have published a study that supports the idea that coronavirus began spreading between humans late last year and transmitted rapidly—and though researchers identified nearly 200 recurrent genetic mutations, there’s no evidence that the virus is becoming more contagious or dangerous.
- After studying 7,500 virus samples from coronavirus patients, a team from University College London found evidence the SARS-CoV-2 viruses appear to share a common ancestor dating from late last year, which could indicate the timing of when the virus was transmitted from an animal to a human.
- The findings could mean that the virus may not have been spreading in humans for very long before the first cases of coronavirus were reported in China in January.
- It’s disappointing news for many who hoped that the virus had actually been infecting people for months and that more of the population would have built up an immunity to it—“Everyone was hoping for that. I was too,” genetics researcher Francois Balloux, one of the study’s leaders, told CNN.
- Balloux estimated that only up to 10% of the global population has been exposed to coronavirus.
- Researchers said mutations in the virus indicate a quick spread once it infected humans, but Balloux said that the mutations don’t appear to have made the coronavirus more deadly or easily transmitted, telling CNN “ the virus is changing, but this in itself does not mean it's getting worse.”
"[The evidence] rules out any scenario that assumes SARSCoV-2 may have been in circulation long before it was identified, and hence have already infected large proportions of the population," the team wrote in their study, published Tuesday.
The virus is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, and was classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic only about three months after the first confirmed case was reported. As of Wednesday, nearly 4 million coronavirus cases worldwide had been confirmed along with more than 250,000 deaths.