Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

University of Brighton biosciences blog

Dr Sarah Pitt

COVID-19 may be here to stay – but it could get better

University of Brighton virologist Dr Sarah Pitt says it’s possible coronavirus will mutate into something less harmful.

Speaking to the university’s weekly podcast, Dr Pitt said COVID-19 can’t continue to behave as it is at the moment: “The trouble is, because it has gone all around the world, it would be difficult to stop transmission. What everyone needs to remember is this is a brand-new virus. It’s got into humans through a series of mutations. Viruses that normally come from animals don’t really want to be in human beings and humans don’t really want that virus to be there. Normally, we are in equilibrium with most pathogens.

“When it’s a brand-new virus, the virus is sort of going, ‘oh, my goodness, how did I get in here?’ And your human immune response, which is also developed over time through evolution, is going “Oh, my goodness. What is this thing? I don’t know”. So, some of the symptoms that you’ll see is an overreaction of the person’s immune response. Eventually, it will have to settle down.

“It’s possible that it will go away like SARS 1 did. It’s also possible that the virus itself will just mutate slightly and dampen itself down so that it is able to live in equilibrium with the human population a bit more easily.”

Alongside her university work, Dr Pitt has taken up an honorary contract at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, where she’s teaching fellow virologists about how to test for COVID-19.

“It’s a little bit of a busman’s holiday. I’m very happy because I can do all of the nerdy stuff about what the virus looks like and why did they call it SARS? How is it similar to SARS 1? Which bits of the virus are we actually testing for? So, it’s been quite fun and I’ve been doing face to face teaching again, which I was missing quite a lot.

Laura Ruby • May 4, 2020

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