Mutation helps COVID-19 spread more easily, replicate faster

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute say they have discovered COVID-19 has mutated, making it easier to catch. It is still unclear, however, if the virus has become more dangerous.

"Viruses evolve," said Dr. Michael Teng of USF Health, who was not involved in the study. "Viruses have to adapt, to better replicate in the host that they choose."

RELATED: Florida researchers track COVID mutation that suggests virus is adapting to humans

Researchers say the cells of COVID-19 have changed, becoming more jagged, which is believed to allow it to bind to host cells more easily.

"The mutation doesn't cause the virus to be more deadly or cause more disease," said Teng. "What we are seeing is that the virus has adapted to humans and is now able to replicate better and transmit better."

RELATED: How a respiratory disease like COVID-19 can damage the whole body

Scientists who made the discovery say it's unclear if the mutation makes the virus less deadly or if it is coincidental that younger and generally healthier people are getting it.

A doctor who spoke alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday said they're looking at whether the mutated virus is less deadly.

"People in the beginning who were getting sick and dying weren't spreading the virus," said Dr. Jason Foland. "On top of that, elderly populations were isolating themselves."

RELATED: COVID-19 damages lungs of asymptomatic and most severe patients alike, scientists believe

This is not to say that it's time to pull off your mask and hug a friend. Rather, being infected with COVID-19 could still have serious consequences for resources, both in hospitals and for testing.

Long-term impacts on those who get it are still unknown.

"The public health measures we take, we have to be a lot more strict about what we do," said Teng. "The facemasks, hand sanitation, these things are a bit more important now, now that we know the virus can grow a little bit better and transmit a little bit better."

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute do not believe the mutation will slow down efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19.