A genetic analysis from more than 7,500 COVID-19 patients suggests that the disease began to spread globally as early as October 2019, quickly adapting to its human host. 

Researchers from University College London Genetics Institute have identified nearly 200 mutations that appear to have occurred independently, meaning that in many geographic areas, there was no “patient zero,” they reported. But the news is not necessarily ominous, said co-lead author Professor Francois Balloux.

“All viruses naturally mutate,” he said. “Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected. So far we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”

The findings may help vaccine makers to develop drugs that will be effective long-term, by targeting areas of the virus that are less likely to mutate, Balloux and colleagues concluded.

The study was published Monday in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.

In other coronavirus news:

Respiratory issues may account for link between obesity and severe COVID-19, say scientists:  Obesity appears to be an independent risk factor for dangerous COVID-19 complications. That’s according to a review of recent evidence published in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology. The increased risk may be in part due to respiratory problems associated with obesity, such as increased airway resistance and impaired gas exchange, low respiratory muscle strength and lung volumes, the authors theorize.

Vaccine promises may raise false hopes; Pfizer begins U.S. vaccine trials:  Developers are speeding through vaccine experiments and trials “at speeds never seen,” reports STAT. But the idea that a drug will be ready by the fall may be unrealistic, experts tell the news outlet. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it has begun U.S. clinical trials of its experimental vaccines. The short time-frame from preclinical studies to human testing is “extraordinary,” CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

COVID-19 may increase blockage of brain blood vessels and stroke risk:  Observation of COVID-19 patients who went on to have a stroke suggests that the coronavirus may cause clots within blood vessels in the brain, according to a team of neurologists.

Simple test provides rapid and sensitive Covid-19 detection, say developers: Researchers have developed a one-step COVID-19 test using CRISPR gene-editing techniques. While the test has not yet been clinically validated, the study team has discussed the possibility of federal emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration, according to medical news outlet STAT. In proof-of-concept experiments, the new test has been shown to enable rapid, accurate, and highly sensitive detection of the Covid-19 virus SARS-CoV-2, the researchers say.