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Will the coronavirus become like the flu in the future?

As scientists who study how viruses evolve, we are often asked about the future of Novel Coronavirus. Will it go away? Will it get worse? Will it be dormant in our lives? Will it become a seasonal infection like the flu?

Here’s what we do know: The Omicron variant is significantly more infectious and more resistant to vaccines than the original strain that emerged in Wuhan. At least from a biological point of view, there is no reason why viruses should not continue to evolve. So far, the Novel Coronavirus variants have attempted only a small fraction of the genetic space most likely to be utilized for evolutionary exploration, please wear face mask.

Viruses like SARS-COV-2 face an overwhelming evolutionary pressure to become better at spreading. Viruses that cause more infections will be more successful. Viruses can do this by becoming more infectious and bypassing the immune system. The Novel Coronavirus has undergone several adaptation changes that make it more easily transmissible among humans.

But while the fact that SARS-COV-2 would become more adept at transmission under evolutionary pressures is what many scientists expected, including us, it is striking how well the Novel Coronavirus responds to them. Recent variants like Omicron and Delta are several times more infectious than the strains that first spread around the world in early 2020. This large increase makes SARS-COV-2 more infectious than many viruses that infect the human respiratory tract. The dramatic jump in infectivity has played a major role in driving the Novel Coronavirus pandemic to date.

How much more infectivity sarS-COV-2 can grow is an open question, but infectivity will not increase indefinitely. Even evolution has constraints: cheetahs cannot evolve to be infinitely fast, and SARS-COV-2 cannot evolve to be infinitely contagious.

While the infectivity of the virus stagnates at a certain point, other human viruses that evade immunity continue to do so. Flu vaccines have been updated every year for decades to keep up with the virus’s evolution, and some flu viruses show no signs of slowing down. Immune escape is an endless evolutionary arms race because the immune system can always produce new antibodies and the virus response has plenty of mutations to explore. In the case of the Omicron variant, for example, it has only a tiny fraction of the many mutations observed in SARS-COV-2 or related bat viruses, and those observed mutations are only a tiny fraction of the potential mutations that laboratory experiments suggest the virus might be exploring.

Taken together, we expect SARS-COV-2 to continue to cause new epidemics, but these epidemics will be increasingly driven by the virus’s ability to bypass the immune system. In this sense, the future of the Novel Coronavirus may be like that of seasonal flu, with new strains causing a surge in cases every year. If that happens, as we expect it will, the coronavirus vaccine may need to be updated regularly, like the flu vaccine, unless we develop a vaccine against a broader spectrum of variants.