A new, more virulent and contagious strain of the novel coronavirus has been discovered by scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to The Los Angeles Times:

“The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote.

“In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned.”

This new form of COVID-19 comes just as many states in the U.S. are in the process of reopening and urging their residents to return to their jobs. Some states that began that process late last week are showing an uptick in cases of the virus and a lack of enthusiasm by the public for a full return to life before coronavirus appeared.

The study from Los Alamos has not yet been peer-reviewed, but the results were released “so that vaccines and drugs under development around the world will be effective against the mutated strain.”

Though it remains unclear exactly when the new strain first appeared, it has already infected more people than the earliest strains which appeared in Wuhan, China.

Study leader Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos, had this to say about the new strain of COVID-19:

“The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form. When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible.”

Also concerning is a part of the study which warns that further mutations are likely and may wind up being even stronger and more deadly with each new iteration:

“If the pandemic fails to wane seasonally as the weather warms, the study warns, the virus could undergo further mutations even as research organizations prepare the first medical treatments and vaccines. Without getting on top of the risk now, the effectiveness of vaccines could be limited. Some of the compounds in development are supposed to latch onto the spike or interrupt its action. If they were designed based on the original version of the spike, they might not be effective against the new coronavirus strain, the study’s authors warned.”

So while the worldwide scientific community is working as fast as possible to produce a vaccine, mutations in the virus may wind up rendering those vaccines useless against the more dangerous forms of COVID-19.

Featured Image Via NBC News