Fact check: The theory that SARS-CoV-2 is becoming milder

There is a growing story that is being reported in mainstream news media as well as on social media platforms, perhaps even at the dinner table. This means that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is weakening , and changing into a less dangerous virus. In the near future, every new variant that is discovered is likely to cause less severe disease as compared to the earlier variant.

“There is a story that we are going to have variants that are progressively less severe,” the Dr. Roby Bhattacharyya, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

It’s a lie Bhattacharyya claims. “It’s comforting to think that SARS-CoV-2 might have some tendency to evolve into a milder form. That’s not what we’re seeing here.”

The roots from the moderate theory

The story has been circulating over the last month as researchers and doctors discover increasing evidence that the omicron variant of coronavirus may be less likely cause serious illness than earlier variants.

Hospital data from South Africa, the UK and the US show that the likelihood of an omicron patient getting admitted to the hospital is approximately 50% lower than that of Delta variant. If you’re admitted to an institution, your chance of being placed on ventilators has been reduced by 75%..

Furthermore lab experiments as well as animal studies have demonstrated that omicron has a different effect in the lungs compared to previous versions. For instance, biologists at Cambridge University of Cambridge found that Omicron doesn’t infect lung cells as vigorously as delta does.

Particularly, Ravi Gupta and his team wanted to determine how well delta and omicron are able to infect respiratory and lung organoids, tiny 3D clusters of cells that look like specific kinds of tissues found in the respiratory tract and the lungs. Omicron was slower to grow than delta, around 10 times faster inside lung cells. The team didn’t detect any difference in replication in these cells in the upper airways.

“Omicron growth was severely disabled in cells that were delta-infected very aggressively,” says Gupta. “And that was a real shock, because we were seeing omicron spread very, very rapidly globally, and yet the [ability to grow] of omicron in certain cell types was really attenuated.”

The researchers also found that omicron utilizes an entirely different route to get into the cells unlike delta. It is believed that this alternative route is less damaging to the lung. “I think these differences are having pretty stark consequences in terms of what we’re seeing clinically,” says Gupta, “with patients having less inflammation in their lungs and a reduced requirement for supplemental oxygen.”

Gupta as well as his group released their findings online in the last month. Then, right afterward press “seized on them as a sign of the COVID endgame,” claims Gupta. “I was very concerned about that narrative because… omicron is still a very dangerous infection.”

The presence of less severe form like omicron does not indication that SARS-CoV-2 is changing into a milder strain which is not as susceptible to infecting the lung.

“It’s important to emphasize that the next variant, and there definitely will be one, may not evolve from omicron and won’t necessarily have these features,” Gupta says. Gupta.

A history of evolution of SARS-CoV-2

Before the introduction of omicron, SARS-CoV-2 was actually evolving into a more serious disease as per Bhattacharyya from Harvard Medical School. “We’re looking at a virus that has gotten progressively more severe over time,” Bhattacharyya states.

A UK study revealed that the alpha virus was four times higher in the likelihood of killing someone than the virus that caused the death of the first. Delta is twice as likely land patients in hospitals as the alpha variant.

“Omicron may be a small step back in severity. But it’s probably more serious on its own than the original version of the virus,” Bhattacharyya says. Being “milder” hasn’t been the trend or evolutionary path according to him.

Omicron also did not immediately develop from delta. It was a relic of an earlier form of the virus which was prevalent in 2020. Therefore, omicron may be more severe than the predecessor virus, and may be moving towards greater severity according to Bhattacharyya.

Therefore, there is no assurance that the next version to be released will be more smooth. It may be the most severe yet.

“I think we really don’t know which direction this virus is going,” says evolutionary biologist Stephen Goldstein of the University of Utah. “We have learned that trying to predict the trajectory evolution of this virus is very, very difficult. If not impossible.”

What are the future phases of COVID-19 be like?

If SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted between people the spread is usually during the initial stages of an individual’s infection and before they even realize they’re sick. In this time, the virus mostly affects the airways. It is not yet far into the lungs which is where the disease can be fatal.

The most common method SARS-CoV-2 thrives is through the development of mild to moderate disease within the respiratory tract of the upper part. “Causing severe disease is not one of SARS-CoV-2’s survival strategies, let’s say,” says Gupta of University of Cambridge. University of Cambridge.

For a brand new variant to be able to reach more people and surpass previous variants it must be very effective in spreading to the airways and nose. However, it isn’t important how effectively the new variant is able to infect cells of the deep lungs. As more people become immune SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, a new variant is likely to be extremely effective in getting rid of the immune system and other antibodies.

Thus, the future versions will likely to enhance their capability to invade and spread throughout the respiratory tract of the upper airways (and remain resistant to escape).

“Whether those changes also make the new variant more severe or less severe, that’s the luck of the draw,” says Bhattacharyya.

Pessimism should not be the only option

Surprisingly, the idea is terrible, isn’t it? It suggests that the following wave that follows this omicron, might be more destructive than this delta wave.

However, Goldstein suggests that it’s not possible because there’s another element to be considered: people’s immunity.

As the virus evolves and grows, so is the immune system. At the level of the population the SARS-CoV-2 immunity is rapidly increasing across the United States. It is possible that over half the US population is infected. Following the omicron surge the percentage could reach the 80%-90% mark. More than 60% of the population have been vaccine-vaccinated.

Numerous studies have shown that exposures of both kinds to SARS-CoV-2 lower the risk of serious illness in the future. “Whether you’ve been previously infected or vaccinated, you’re more likely to have a milder course than someone who doesn’t have immunity,” Goldstein adds. Goldstein.

In the course of time it is likely that all variants in the future will probably appear less serious than the delta or earlier varieties of this virus. “Even if the variant had no change in virulence, if the population now has a high level of existing immunity, then [the variant] will, in effect, be less virulent because the average severity of infections will decrease over time,” said the doctor. . He says.

Therefore, the expectation among scientists is that , no matter what the virus does to us, the next wave of COVID-19 will be less dangerous or disruptive not due to it has altered itself, but rather because our bodies will be more at handling it. The virus.

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