Kuala Lumpur, July 10: The mention of mutation is enough to give us nightmares of viruses that evolve with the sole aim of killing mankind and taking over the earth.
But in reality, a virus’s main purpose of mutating is to seek coexistence with the human body.
'A virus mutates for survival, not to kill. It tries to adapt to the conditions of the human body, ' International Medical University (IMU) virologist and lecturer Dr Kenny Voon said.
'Humans are a reservoir for the virus. We help it to propagate more. It doesn’t want to kill us, the host. If the host dies, there is no co-existence. This is why its main aim is not to become more deadly,' he adds.
He explains that when a virus first jumps from one species to another we often see a high death rate. This is because the virus has not learnt to live within its new host.
'For example, the common cold was probably a virus that started infecting humans a long time ago and now it just coexists with us,' he said.
'Laboratory results, from a study that compared infectivity and virulence of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants in Syrian hamsters, show that while the COVID-19 virus has become more contagious, it has not become more deadly,' he says, although he does warn that this is an inference made from laboratory testing.
How the virus affects people in the real world can be different.
Case in point, the Delta (Indian) variant. This variant has been speculated to be more deadly because there have been more cases of death reported. However, in laboratory tests, the variant did not show up to be more deadly.
'We will only know once we have more data from community samples.'
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