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SARS-CoV-2 evolution: Chronic infections are a source of new variants

Written by corres2

Long COVID may have led to the origins of Omicron and other variants that have driven Covid-19 surges globally, suggest scientists.

Majority of people with COVID-19 infection recover within two weeks, but the symptoms may linger for weeks, months and even years in some people. The condition is known as post-COVID-19 syndrome or “long COVID-19” or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). Research suggests that more than 40 per cent of COVID-19 patients get long COVID. These people with lingering COVID-19 symptoms are termed as “long-haulers” and they experience persistent symptoms that include headaches, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating and shortness of breath. These lingering symptoms are affecting their ability to work, return to normal activities, or enjoy food and drink, causing massive disruptions to their daily lives.

Now virologists have cautioned that Long COVID has the potential to emerge into dangerous variants.

Sissy Sonnleitner, a virologist who is based at a microbiology facility in Ausservillgraten, Austria, and her team studied viral samples from a woman with Long COVID and found that the virus had picked up about 22 mutations. They described their findings in a report published in Nature.

Tracking the evolution of SARS-CoV-2

In the report, the scientists noted that tracking the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 during persistent cases provides insight into the origins of Omicron and other global variants.

The 60-year-old woman, they have mentioned in the report, had COVID infection that lingered for more than seven months, in late 2020, though the symptoms were relatively mild symptoms, including fatigue and a cough.

The research team collected more than two dozen viral samples from the woman over time. Through genetic sequencing, they found that the virus had picked up about 22 mutations, and about half of these were seen in the heavily mutated Omicron variant that emerged in November 2021.

This suggests that these mutations were already there in “our variant” before the Omicron was found, Sonnleitner pointed out.

Chronic infections may have led to the origin of Omicron and other variants

Based on their findings, the researchers hypothesized that chronic infections, like the one seen in the woman, are a leading candidate for the origins of Omicron and other variants that have driven Covid-19 surges globally.

Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, also have no doubt that such chronic infections are a source of new variants.

Darren Martin, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, suggested that viruses are likely to bear immunity-evading mutations if a person’s immune system fails to clear an infection fully.

With inputs form agencies

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