COVID-19 Patients who remain sick for months can become incubators of dangerous new coronavirus strains

Coronavirus
A nurse brings medication to a COVID-19 patient in an hospital intensive care unit.(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

A nurse brings medication to a COVID-19 patient in an hospital intensive care unit.(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Among the 100 million people around the world who have battled coronavirus infections, scientists are turning to the case of a 45-year-old COVID-19 patient in Boston to understand how the virus is able to outwit humans.

During his 154-day illness — one of the longest on record — the patient’s body became a crucible of riotous viral mutation. He offered the world one of the first sightings of a key mutation in the virus’ spike protein that set off alarm bells when it was later found in strains in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

In the U.K. strain, the genetic change known as N501Y is thought to help enhance the virus’ transmissibility by about 50%. In the South Africa strain, it may reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Tests of its effect on the Brazil variant are still in progress.

The Boston patient is now being viewed as an important harbinger of the coronavirus’ ability to spin off new and more dangerous versions of itself. Though he died over the summer, the medical file he left behind is helping experts anticipate the emergence of new strains by focusing on the role of a growing population of patients with compromised immune systems who battle the virus for months.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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