A variant with a “worrying” number of mutations has been detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
Experts fear his mutations will help him avoid antibodies produced by vaccines and treatments.
It was detected 82 times on Thursday. For now, he is closely watched.
Scientists and health officials are closely following a variant of the coronavirus with a “worrying” number of mutations that have been detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
The variant, called B.1.1.529, has 32 mutations in the part of the virus that attaches to human cells, called the spike protein – the target of existing vaccines and antibody treatments. A higher number of mutations in the spike protein can change its shape and means that there is a greater risk that these vaccines and treatments will not be effective against it.
Experts worry that the mutations could make the virus more infectious and help it avoid the antibody response, but this has not been proven. It is not yet known whether the mutations make the virus more deadly.
COVID-19 vaccines remain an “essential tool” to protect against serious diseases, Tulio de Oliveira, Director of the South African Epidemic Response and Innovation Center, said Thursday in a briefing.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London who posted an article on the variant on Github on Tuesday, said the high number of mutations could be a “real concern” and that there were combinations of mutations that he hadn’t seen before in a single variant. of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London Genetics Institute, said in a statement to the Science Media Center on Wednesday that the large number of mutations that appear to have occurred in a single burst suggest the variant evolved from chronic infection in an immunocompromised individual.
B.1.1.529 was first detected on November 11 and has been sequenced 82 times – 77 cases in South Africa, four cases in neighboring Botswana and one case in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong case was attributed to an individual who visited South Africa, according to the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases on Thursday.
Peacock warned that “exporting to Asia” might suggest it’s more widespread than the footage alone implies.
Professor Adrian Puren, acting executive director of NICD, said in a statement Thursday that NICD experts were “working overtime” to understand the new variant and its potential implications.
Ravi K Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge said on Twitter Wednesday that the B.1.1.529 variant was “disturbing, and I haven’t said that from Delta”. The highly infectious Delta variant, which is the most common variant in the world, has 11 to 15 mutations in its spike protein and some of these help it bypass the immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
“Please get vaccinated and boosted and masked in public, as mutations in this virus likely lead to high leakage of neutralizing antibodies,” Gupta said.
Dr Michelle Groome, head of the public health surveillance and response division at NICD, said that individual adherence to preventive measures can have a “great collective impact” in limiting the spread of the new variant. “This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing and congregate in well-ventilated spaces,” she said.
The World Health Organization and health officials in South Africa, where most of the cases have been detected, are due to meet on Friday to discuss the variant.
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