Scientists warn that the B.1.1.529 variant, first discovered in Botswana and with six confirmed cases in South Africa, has an “extremely high number” of mutations, which could lead to new waves of Covid-19.
Ten cases in three countries (Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong) have been confirmed by genetic sequencing, but the new variant has caused great concern to researchers because some mutations can help the virus escape immunity. The first cases of the variant were discovered in Botswana, on November 11, and the first in South Africa three days later. The case found in Hong Kong was a 36-year-old man who had tested negative for PCR before traveling from Hong Kong to South Africa, where he stayed from October 22 to November 11. He tested negative upon return to Hong Kong, but came back positive on November 13 when he was in quarantine.
The B.1.1.529 variant contains 32 mutations in the spike protein, which is part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID-19. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect and spread cells, but they also make it more difficult for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, revealed many details of the new variant, noting that “the incredibly large amount of peak mutations suggests that this may be a real concern”.
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Dr Mira Chand, a microbiologist and director of the UK’s Health Security Agency, said that in partnership with scientific bodies around the world, the agency is constantly monitoring the status of SARS-Cov-2 variants worldwide as they emerge and evolve.
Because it is in the nature of the virus to mutate frequently and randomly, it is not uncommon for small numbers of cases to emerge with new mutations. Any variants that show evidence of prevalence will soon be evaluated.” Watchman.
Scientists are looking at the new variant, looking for any signs that it is gaining strength and eventually spreading widely. Some South African virologists are already concerned, especially given the recent increase in cases in Gauteng, an urban area that includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, where cases with the B.1.1,529 variant have already been detected.
Ravi Gupta, professor of microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said his laboratory work revealed two mutations in B.1.1.529 that increase infection and decrease antibody recognition. “This certainly appears to be a major concern based on the mutations that are present,” he said.
However, the main priority of the unknown virus is infection, as this appears to have driven primarily the delta variant. Immune hovering is only part of the picture of what can happen,” Gupta added.
Professor François Ballou, director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London, believes that the large number of mutations in the variant, apparently accumulating in a “single outbreak”, suggests that it may have developed during a chronic infection in someone with a compromised immune system. , possibly for an untreated AIDS patient.
“It is difficult to speculate on its transmissibility at this point. At the moment, it needs to be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no reason to worry too much, unless it starts to increase in frequency in the near future,” Ballux said.
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