MANILA - The new mutation of the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 appears to be more infectious, the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday, as the country's cases of the respiratory disease neared 48,000.
"Mutations do occur with COVID-19 virus, and this particular one is now more common in the world and seems to be more infectious," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.
"We are continuing to monitor this development and our scientists are sequencing some of our local viruses as we speak," she added.
A public health expert earlier warned the public that the surge in coronavirus infections could be partly due to a mutation of COVID-19, which makes it at least 3 times more infectious.
The current variant called "D614G" has increased the infectiousness of the virus, said Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the technical advisory group that advises the DOH and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).
"There is no evidence it makes it more deadly or virulent. However, it can spread faster and overwhelm our health care system if we don't double our control efforts and so it can lead to a higher number of overall deaths if we do not properly manage the number of infections," Salvaña wrote on Facebook.
The health department urged the public to strictly observe minimum health standards such as wearing of face masks, physical distancing and proper hygiene.
The Philippines saw its third highest single-day rise of coronavirus cases at 1,540 on Tuesday.
The additional cases pushed the nationwide total to 47,873, of which, 1,309 patients have succumbed to the disease while 12,386 have recovered.
The genetic variation of the novel coronavirus that dominates the world today infects human cells more readily than the original that emerged in China, according to a new study published in the journal Cell on July 2.
The lab-based research suggests this current mutation is more transmissible between people in the real world compared to the previous iteration, but this hasn't yet been proven.
"I think the data is showing that there is a single mutation that actually makes the virus be able to replicate better, and maybe have high viral loads," Anthony Fauci, the United States's top infectious disease specialist, who wasn't involved in the research, commented to Journal of the American Medical Association.
"We don't have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible, but this is still at the stage of trying to confirm that," he added.
Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Duke University in North Carolina partnered with the University of Sheffield's COVID-19 Genomics UK research group to analyze genome samples published on GISAID, an international resource for sharing genome sequences.
They found that the current variant, called "D614G," makes a small but potent change in the "spike" protein that protrudes from the surface of the virus, which it uses to invade and infect human cells.
They analyzed the data of 999 British patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and observed that those with the variant had more viral particles in them, but without this changing the severity of their disease.
Laboratory experiments meanwhile showed that the variant is three to six times more capable of infecting human cells.
"It seems likely that it's a fitter virus," said Erica Ollmann Saphire, who carried out one of the experiments at La Jolla Institute for Immunology.
- With a report from Ivan Couronne, Agence France-Presse