How One Covid-19 Patient’s Infection Foreshadowed The Rise Of New Variants

Let’s recap my last few articles on parallel evolution, the term researchers have conceived to describe the ability some viruses have—namely, coronaviruses and influenza—to evolve independently of one another across multiple scales of time and space. Last week I discussed the origins of this theory in influenza research, the recent studies that apply it to SARS-CoV-2, and the London patient, the first of many immunocompromised and persistently infected Covid-19 patients with documented evidence of parallel mutations. Next in line was the Boston patient, followed shortly thereafter by the Pittsburgh patient. Through the lens of these case studies I examined the myriad aspects and potential consequences of viral variation—where it occurs, why it occurs, and what it means for the future of the pandemic.

Today I’ll turn my focus to yet another case study involving parallel mutations, that of the Italian patient, which was published in The Lancet last month. Unlike the examples we’ve discussed thus far, the research paper doesn’t disclose whether or not this patient, a 59-year-old man, had underlying health conditions prior to his Covid-19 diagnosis. He did, however, experience a similarly persistent infection that evidently lasted a few months. Though the details regarding when the Italian patient’s disease course began and ended, as well as the treatments he received, if any, also aren’t elaborated, researchers were able to extract and sequence viral samples at least twice, first in August and again in September. They then compared these samples with isolates of SARS-CoV-2 strains that were circulating in Italy either concurrently or earlier on in the pandemic.

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Originally published on Forbes (February 18, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.