The continued spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 brought to the international forefront the Greek alphabet, as a model for recording mutations. A naming system established and officially used by the World Health Organization. Some of these mutations have equipped the virus with more efficient modes of transmission to the human community, while others appear to be able to penetrate the protective shield provided by vaccines.
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Scientists are still focused on the Delta mutation. It is the dominant mutation, spreading rapidly throughout the world. However, at the same time, they are watching other mutations, in order to see who can one day take the place of the current threat…
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The Delta variant, first identified in India, remains the most worrying. The rate of spread in the unvaccinated population in many countries is impressive, and this mutation has been shown to be able to infect a higher proportion of vaccinated people than previous forms of Covid-19 coronavirus.
The WHO classifies Delta as a particularly worrying mutation, which means that it has been shown (already) to be able to increase transmissibility, cause more serious illness, or reduce the benefit of vaccines and treatments.
According to Sean Crotti, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in San Diego, Delta's “superpower” is its transmissibility. Chinese researchers have found that people infected with Delta carry 1,260 times more load of virus in their nose than the original version of the coronavirus. Some US research shows that the “viral load” in people who are infected with Delta is at the same level as those who are not vaccinated, but more research is needed.
While the original coronavirus took up to seven days to cause symptoms, the Delta mutation can cause symptoms two to three days faster, giving the immune system less time to respond and build defenses. It also appears to mutate further, with reports appearing of a “Delta Plus” variant, a sub-variant carrying an additional mutation that has been shown to evade immune protection.
India listed the Delta Plus variant as a cause for concern in June, but neither the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the WHO have done so yet. According to Outbreak.info, an open source database for COVID-19, the Delta Plus variant has been identified in at least 32 countries. Experts say it is not yet clear if it is more dangerous.
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Can the Delta mutation “decline”?
The Lambda variant has attracted attention as a potential new threat. But that version of the coronavirus, first detected in Peru in December, may be declining, several infectious disease experts told Reuters.
The WHO classifies Lambda as a variant of particular interest, which means that it mutates suspiciously, causes a change in transmission or causes a more serious illness, but is still under investigation. Laboratory studies show that there are mutations that resist the antibodies that vaccines make in the human body.
Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, said the percentage of new Lambda cases reported to GISAID – a database that tracks variants of SARS-CoV-2 – is declining. a sign that the Lambda mutation is declining.
In a recent teleconference with the CDC, experts said that Lambda did not appear to cause increased transmission and that the vaccines appeared to be well tolerated, said Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who attended the discussion.
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B.1.621 – A mutation that deserves attention
The B.1.621 variant, which first appeared in Colombia in January, where it caused a great uproar, has not yet been “baptized” with a Greek letter.
The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention has registered it as a variant of interest, while the Public Health Service of England describes B.1.621 as a variant under investigation. It is associated with several of the major coronavirus mutations, including E484K, N501Y and D614G, which have been associated with increased transmission and decreased immune protection. So far, there have been 37 possible and confirmed cases in the UK, according to a recent government report, and the variant has been identified in a number of patients in Florida.
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Are more mutations coming?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, recently warned that the United States could face a serious problem if more Americans are not vaccinated, as a large group of unvaccinated people gives the virus more opportunities to spread and mutate into new strains.
Proponents of a larger international vaccine distribution from rich countries point out that the variations are uncontrollable among the populations of poor nations, where very few people have been vaccinated.
Even so, a key issue is that current vaccines prevent serious illness but do not prevent infection, said Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine scientist at the Mayo Clinic. This is because the virus is still able to reproduce in the nose, even among vaccinated people, who can then transmit the disease through tiny aerosol droplets.
To beat SARS-CoV-2, he said, would probably require a new generation of vaccines that also block transmission. Until then, people will remain vulnerable to the spread of new coronavirus mutations, warns Poland – like many other experts.