The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Chimps & Dolphins, Mutation, Bus Superspreading

Ellie Kincaid

Disclosures

September 04, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

This week in COVID-19 news, scientists predicted dolphins and anteaters may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, the D614G variant of the virus was reported in Indonesia, and researchers described a superspreading event that took place on a bus. But you didn't see these headlines on Medscape. Here's why.

Susceptible Species

At various times, mink, dogs, house cats, and a tiger have been reported to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection. To see which other species might be vulnerable, scientists identified more than 400 vertebrates with ACE2 receptors and predicted how well SARS-CoV-2 would bind to other species' ACE2 structures to infect cells as it does in humans, based on how similar they were to human ACE2.

The scientists found that 18 species — all Old World primates and great apes such as Rhesus macaques and chimpanzees — had ACE2 proteins identical to humans' in the area to which SARS-CoV-2 binds, and they predicted the virus would have "very high" propensity to bind to ACE2 in these species. The group of 28 species with the next highest propensity for coronavirus binding included common bottlenose dolphins, reindeer, kangaroo rats, and giant anteaters.

While it's interesting to ponder what other species SARS-CoV-2 might be able to infect, one reason we didn't cover the results of this computer modeling study is that they aren't the last word: "Until the present model's accuracy can be confirmed with additional experimental data, we urge caution not to overinterpret the predictions of the present study," the researchers write. Also, we don't think our clinician readers care for anteaters and dolphins — at least, not professionally.

Mutation in Indonesia

"A more infectious mutation of the new coronavirus has been found in Indonesia," Reuters reports, referring to the D614G mutation of SARS-CoV-2. The country's health ministry reported 2858 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, above the daily average in the past month but below the previous day's count of 3,308. "The situation is serious.... Local transmission currently is out of control," an epidemiologist with the University of Indonesia told Reuters.

The "more infectious" description of the D614G variant comes from a study published in Cell last month. But in an accompanying editorial, scientists wrote that considering the evidence in the study, "it's impossible to conclude that a single mutation alone would have a major impact in a large, diverse human population based on in vitro infectivity and fitness data." The "mutated" form has become common enough globally that "this variant now is the pandemic," they wrote.

Since D614G is no longer novel or uncommon globally, we didn't consider its presence in Indonesia newsworthy. Anxiety about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is high enough without headlines about a scary-sounding mutation.

Bus Superspreading

Before COVID-19 was known to be present in Zhejiang province, China, 128 people traveled on two buses to a Buddhist temple for an outdoor worship event on January 19. One person was infected with SARS-CoV-2 but didn't yet have symptoms. Researchers describe what happened next in JAMA Internal Medicine: 23 out of the 67 other people on the bus with the infected person were diagnosed with COVID-19 after the event, but none from the other bus did. "Airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 seems likely to have contributed to the high attack rate in the exposed bus," the authors conclude.

Contact tracing case reports like this one are important pieces of information that can improve understanding about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads. But because they're most informative when they're pulled together — and because we have seen this movie before — we didn't cover this study on its own.

Ellie Kincaid is Medscape's associate managing editor. She has previously written about healthcare for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Nature Medicine. She can be reached at ekincaid@medscape.net or @ellie_kincaid on Twitter.

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