Scientists warn about a new variant of COVID with a large number of mutations. Variant B.1.1.529 was first identified in Botswana and six cases were identified in South Africa.
Experts said that a new variant of the coronavirus, which carries “an extremely large number” of mutations, could cause new waves of disease.
According to The Guardian, only 10 cases in three countries have been confirmed by genomic sequencing, but this option has caused serious concern among some researchers, since a number of mutations can help the virus avoid an immune attack.
Variant B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus most vaccines use to prime immune cells against COVID. Mutations in the spike protein can interfere with the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
For the first time, a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in Botswana, where three cases have been sequenced so far. Six more are confirmed in neighboring South Africa and one in Hong Kong from a traveler returning from South Africa.
Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, notes that “the incredible number of spike mutations suggests that a new variant of the coronavirus could be of serious concern.”
Peacock argues that there is “very, very much to control because of this terrible burst profile,” but added that it could be a “strange cluster” that is not very communicated. “I hope so,” he tweeted.
Dr. Mira Chand, Director of COVID-19 Incidents at the UK Health Safety Agency, argues that “because viruses tend to mutate frequently and randomly, it is not uncommon for a small number of cases with new sets of mutations to occur.”
The first cases of this variant were detected in Botswana on 11 November, and the earliest cases in South Africa were reported three days later. In Hong Kong, a 36-year-old man was diagnosed with a negative PCR test before flying from Hong Kong to South Africa, where he was from October 22 to November 11. Upon returning to Hong Kong, the test was negative, but on November 13, in quarantine, it was already positive.
Scientists will be monitoring the new variant for any signs that it is gaining ground and spreading more widely. Some virologists in South Africa are already worried, especially given the recent rise in cases in Gauteng, the urban area in which Pretoria and Johannesburg are located, where cases of B.1.1.529 have been identified.
Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said that work in his laboratory showed that two mutations in B.1.1.529 increased infectivity and decreased antibody recognition. “This is certainly a serious concern based on the mutations that are present,” he said. “However, the key property of the virus, which is unknown, is its infectiousness, as this appears to have caused the Delta variant in the first place.
Professor François Ballou, director of the Institute of Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles, says that a large number of mutations in this variant appear to accumulate in a single “burst,” suggesting that it may have developed during a chronic infection in a person with a weakened immune system. system, possibly due to HIV / AIDS.
“I definitely expected it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing antibodies compared to Alpha or Delta,” he said. – At this stage, it is difficult to predict how contagious it might be. At the present time, it should be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no cause for undue concern, unless the frequency of such cases begins to increase in the near future. “