Your questions, answered
“Are there concerns about the virus mutating and becoming more virulent as [the influenza outbreak] did in 1918?” —Kathleen in Wisconsin
Viruses can change subtly as they spread from person to person. A virus replicates once it enters a cell, a process inherently prone to error, or “mutation." The virus can make mistakes in its genetic code when it copies, which can change how it affects its host.
So far, scientists think the novel coronavirus is relatively stable. People have been getting the same basic strain, with few mutations. And even when a virus does mutate, it's more likely that the mutation is going to be bad for the virus.
"Nearly all mutations are harmful to the virus," said Benjamin Neuman, chair of the biological sciences department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. "They have delicate biological machinery, and randomly changing bits of that is almost always bad. Mutations generally break valuable biological machinery."
Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who has been studying the virus, told The Post last month that for as many people as the coronavirus has passed through, a relatively small number of mutations have actually happened.
“At this point, the mutation rate of the virus would suggest that the vaccine developed for SARS-CoV-2 would be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year like the flu vaccine," Thielen said.
This answer came with help from science reporter Joel Achenbach.