British scientists are monitoring a new version of the Delta variant, called Delta Plus, which has started to spread in England and may be slightly more contagious.
The new variant, officially designated as AY. 4.2, accounted for 6% of all COVID-19 cases that were genetically sequenced during the week of September 27, according to a recent report from the UK Health Security Agency. The agency added that the mutation was “on an increasing trajectory.”
The virus that causes COVID-19 has mutated thousands of times since the start of the pandemic, and most versions have died out or have had little impact. The AY. The 4.2 mutation was first detected in Britain in July and is growing slowly. Scientists have yet to designate it as a “variant under study” or a “variant of concern,” which is an indication of the level of risk. If it is elevated to a “variant under investigation”, which is widely expected, the World Health Organization will assign it a Greek letter in its naming system.
Delta was listed as a worrying variant last May in Britain after starting to overtake the Alpha variant, which appeared in late 2020.
Scientists told AY. 4.2 has two key mutations in the spike protein of the virus that help it enter human cells. These mutations have appeared before, but the number of cases has remained low so far. “No mutation is a priori an obvious candidate for increased viral transmissibility, but we have learned that mutations can have different, sometimes unexpected, effects in different strains, ”said François Balloux, professor of computer systems biology at University College London. He added that AY. 4.2′s two spike protein mutations were not found in other variants of concern.
Britain is a world leader in tracking genetic changes in the virus and so far in AA. 4.2 has not been found in many other countries. In Denmark, which also has a large genomic surveillance program, the new variation represented 2% of sequenced cases, but that number has been declining in recent times.
Britain has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, which some believe may be linked to the new mutation. The number of new infections topped 49,000 on Monday, an increase of 20% in one week and the highest daily figure in three months. The count fell back to 43,738 on Tuesday.
“We need urgent research to determine if this Delta Plus is more transmissible, has partial immune breakout,” Scott Gottlieb, former head of the United States Food and Drug Administration, said on Twitter Sunday after noting the increase in the number of cases in Great Britain. . “There is no clear indication that it is significantly more transmissible, but we should be working to characterize these and other newer variants more quickly. We have the tools.
Dr Balloux and other experts have suggested that the YA. 4.2 variation could be between 10 percent and 15 percent more transmissible than the Delta variant. However, Dr Balloux said it likely didn’t cause the recent spike in UK infections. “Like AY. 4.2 is still at a fairly low frequency, a 10% increase in transmissibility could only have caused a small number of additional cases, ”he said.
“The emergence of another more transmissible strain would be suboptimal,” he added. “However, this is not a situation comparable to the emergence of Alpha and Delta which were much more transmissible – 50% or more – than any strain in circulation at the time. Here we are dealing with a small potential increase in transmissibility that would not have a comparable impact on the pandemic. “
Other scientists have said the growing number of cases in Britain has been linked to low vaccination rates among children and inadequate measures to slow transmission in schools. Britain has been slow to launch a vaccination program for children and face coverings are not compulsory in schools across much of England.
“The infection rate in school-aged children is clearly driving this sustained wave of new infections,” said Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading. “With rising infection rates and a lack of appetite for further restrictions on movement or activity, vaccines seem to be our best hope to prevent more problems to come. With so many COVID-19 in the population, we have to hope that the jabs will continue to protect most people from serious illness. “
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