Chronic COVID infections source of variants of concern, study shows

Aug. 29, 2022
A mechanistic, theoretical model reveals how variants acquire a constellation of mutations.

The coronavirus variants of concern are emerging from chronic, long-term COVID-19 infections in people who may be immune compromised and unable to clear the virus, a new study strongly suggests. Frontiers in Virology published the findings by scientists at Emory University and the University of Oxford.  

“Rather than evolving from transmission chains of acute COVID infections in hundreds of millions of people, our results show that the variants of concern come from rare cases when someone may have an active infection for months,” says Daniel Weissman, a corresponding author and Emory professor of biology and physics focused on quantitative evolutionary theory.  

“A key take-home message is that it is important to find these individuals who are chronically infected and provide support for them to recover,” adds Mahan Ghafari, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. “In many cases they may be asymptomatic and not even realize that they are infected with COVID although they are actively shedding the virus.”  

Emory University release