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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday stated that a new COVID-19 variant – a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants, dubbed ‘Deltacron’ – has been found circulating in parts of Europe.
According to the officials, the new variant has been detected in France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Additionally, cases of the potential new variant have also been identified in the United States, as per a recent study published in MedRxiv, as viewed by USA Today.
US researchers at the San Mateo, California-headquartered lab Helix, which is known to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in tracking COVID-19, recently sequenced and looked at 29,719 positive coronavirus samples collected between Nov. 22 to Feb. 13.
The study published on research site MedRxiv found two infections involving different versions of Deltacron i.e. a combination of the genetic material found in Delta and Omicron variants.
Philippe Colson of IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille, France, the lead author of the study said, “During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, two or more variants have co-circulated during same periods of time and in the same geographical areas. … This created opportunities for recombination between these two variants.”
“His team described three patients in France infected with a version of SARS-CoV-2 that combines the spike protein from an Omicron variant with the “body” of a Delta variant,” reported Reuters.
What is viral recombination?
A viral recombination is when at least two viral genomes coinfect the same host cell and exchange genetic material during replication to produce a virus progeny that have some genes from both parent strains. It is said to be common in coronaviruses because of the way their RNA genomes are duplicated.
Delta + Omicron: How concerned should we be?
Up until recent findings, experts and epidemiologists claimed that instances of viral recombination were extremely rare since there was no clinical evidence to prove the existence of the same. But with the announcement made by the WHO and as per recent findings, we’re compelled to think otherwise.
However, experts say it’s too early to worry about the Deltacron. WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove took to Twitter to explain how this was expected, especially with the intense circulation of omicron and delta.
Furthermore, in places where the Deltacron has been detected, the numbers have been very low, as per the infectious disease epidemiologist. There have not been “any change in the epidemiology,” and as far as the new COVID variant is concerned, Van Kerkhove said, “We haven’t seen any change in the severity. But there are many studies that are underway,”
The science behind new emerging variants
Viruses are programmed to mutate. The SARs-COV-2 virus also evolves over time and hence, new variants are bound to emerge.
The mutations that arise out of an old or the original strain are called COVID mutations or ‘variants’ of the original virus. Therefore, unlike the original strain, the new variants may have different abilities in their way of infecting a person and may possess a different genome sequencing that may allow it to dodge antibodies from a natural infection or vaccines.
As compared to the previous variant, Delta was more severe, contagious and dangerous. Then came the Omicron, which although milder, led to widespread transmission and was also found to re-infect some who had previously had COVID-19.
WHO epidemiologist Van Kerkhove says, “Unfortunately, we do expect to see recombinants because this is what viruses do, they change over time.” “We’re seeing a very intense level of circulation. We are seeing this virus infect animals, with the possibility of infecting humans again. So again, the pandemic is far from over,” she adds.
What we can do
Following COVID-appropriate measures continues to be the best possible way to curb the spread of the virus. This also limits its chances to evolve and mutate further. That said, wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and following proper hand hygiene are integral in our fight against the deadly virus. Most importantly, prioritize vaccination. Although it won’t prevent an infection, COVID-19 vaccines are said to cut down severity to a considerable extent.
Article From： Times of India