Tag: covid variants

Delta Variant Causes Pregnancy Complications

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Pregnant women have been a population of concern for physicians since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and early on the frequency of caesarean delivery, preterm birth and pregnancy-related hypertension was reported to be increased in pregnant women who developed severe or critical illness from the novel coronavirus.

In May and June this year, there was a lull in COVID cases and hospitalisations, to the relief of physicians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and their pregnant patients. However, the Delta variant soon caused a rise in cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the US state of Alabama. Along with this there was a seemingly higher number of pregnant patients with COVID in hospitals and intensive care units than in previous surges.

“We saw an alarming increase in pregnant patients hospitalised with the Delta variant in July and August,” said Akila Subramaniam, MD, associate professor in UAB’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “Even more, many of our patients were delivering pre-term because of the effects of the virus on these women.”

Researchers tracked admission rates and maternal and neonatal outcomes of pregnant COVID patients at UAB Hospital from March 22, 2020, to Aug. 18, 2021. Outcomes were compared between pre-Delta and Delta groups, with preliminary findings seriousindicating  morbidity and adverse outcomes associated with the Delta variant and pregnancy.

Prior to the Delta variant, UAB Hospital saw the highest admission of pregnant women with active COVID in July 2020. A total of 28 pregnant patients were admitted that month, three of whom were admitted to the intensive care unit. In comparison, 39 pregnant patients, with 11 in ICU, were hospitalised in just the first 18 days of August.

“Pregnant women are a high-risk population with low-vaccination rates overall,” said Jodie Dionne, MD, associate director of UAB Global Health in the Center for Women’s Reproductive Health and associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases. “There is misinformation circulating that causes doubt in the vaccines or downplays the effect of the virus. This study highlights how dangerous contracting the virus, especially the Delta variant, can be for the mom and baby.”

From the study’s early findings, the UAB researchers emphasize recommendations from the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to vaccinate pregnant patients to mitigate severe perinatal morbidity and mortality.

The findings were published in the journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Differences in Natural and Vaccine-induced COVID Immunity Revealed

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A new study recently published in Nature has found that immune protection resulting from COVID protection creates lasting effects in memory B cells.

Unlike circulating antibodies, which peak soon after vaccination or infection only to fade a few months later, memory B cells can remain to ward off severe disease for decades. They also evolve over time, learning to produce successively more potent ‘memory antibodies’ that are more effective at neutralising the virus and with better adaptation to variants.

Though vaccination instils higher levels of circulating antibodies than natural infection, the study suggests that not all memory B cells are created equal. While vaccination gives rise to memory B cells that evolve over a few weeks, natural infection births memory B cells that continue to evolve over several months, producing highly potent antibodies adept at eliminating even viral variants.

Though the findings suggest an advantage from natural infection over vaccination, this does not outweigh the dangers of illness and death from COVID, the researchers warn.

“While a natural infection may induce maturation of antibodies with broader activity than a vaccine does – a natural infection can also kill you,” explained Professor Michel C. Nussenzweig, head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Molecular Immunology. “A vaccine won’t do that and, in fact, protects against the risk of serious illness or death from infection.”

When any virus enters the body, immune cells immediately release circulating antibodies, which decay at variable rates depending on the vaccine or infection. They may confer protection for months or years but then dwindle in number, allowing possible reinfection.

Long term protection is provided by memory B cells that produce memory antibodies. Studies suggest that memory B cells for smallpox last at least 60 years after vaccination; those for Spanish flu, nearly a century. And while memory B cells don’t necessarily block reinfection, they can prevent severe disease.

Recent studies have suggested that within five months of receiving a vaccine or recovering from a natural infection, some no longer retain sufficient circulating antibodies to keep the novel coronavirus at bay, but memory B cells remain vigilant. Until now, however, scientists did not know whether the vaccines could be expected to provide the sort of robust memory B cell response seen after natural infection.

Prof Nussenzweig and colleagues resolved to tease out any differences in memory B cell evolution by comparing blood samples from convalescent COVID patients to those from never-infected mRNA-vaccinated individuals.

Vaccination and natural infection elicited similar numbers of memory B cells, which rapidly evolved between the first and second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, producing increasingly potent memory antibodies. But after two months, progress stalled. The memory B cells were present in large numbers and expressed potent antibodies, but the antibodies were not getting any stronger. Also, although some of these antibodies were able to neutralize Delta and other variants, there was no overall improvement in breadth.

The researchers found that in convalescent patients, however, memory B cells continued to evolve and improve up to one year after infection. With every memory B cell update, more potent and more broadly neutralising memory antibodies were coming out.

There are several potential reasons that memory B cells produced by natural infection might be expected to outperform those produced by mRNA vaccines, the researchers said.

It is possible that the body responds differently to viruses that enter through the respiratory tract than those that are injected. Or perhaps an intact virus goads the immune system in a way the vaccines’ spike protein antigens simply cannot. It may also be possible that the virus persists in the naturally infected for weeks, giving the body more time to mount a robust response. The vaccine, on the other hand, is flushed out of the body mere days after triggering the desired immune response.

Memory B cells appear to undergo limited bouts of evolution in response to mRNA vaccines, a finding which may have significant implications for booster shots. A booster with the current mRNA vaccine would likely stimulate memory cells to produce antibodies strongly protective against the original virus and somewhat less so against the variants, Prof Nussenzweig said.

“When to administer the booster depends on the object of boosting,” he said. “If the goal is to prevent infection, then boosting will need to be done after 6 to 18 months depending on the immune status of the individual. If the goal is to prevent serious disease, boosting may not be necessary for years.”

Source: Rockefeller University

What is The C.1.2 Variant?

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A preliminary study recently uploaded on the medRxiv preprint server, researchers detail the detection and characteristics of the C.1.2 variant of SARS-CoV-2, which has not yet been assigned a variant of interest (VOI) status, but which could potentially have increased transmission and immune escape potential.

The researchers describe how they identified a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, C.1.2. The first detection of this variant was during the third wave of infections in South Africa from May 2021 onwards, and has also been detected in seven other countries around the world.

New SARS-CoV-2 variants are commonly associated with new waves of infection. Like several other variants of concern (VOCs), C.1.2 has accumulated a number of substitutions beyond what would be expected from the background SARS-CoV-2 evolutionary rate. This suggests the likelihood that these mutations arose during a period of accelerated evolution in a single individual with prolonged viral infection through virus-host co-evolution. Deletions within the N-terminal domain have been evident in cases of prolonged infection, further supporting this hypothesis.

C.1.2 contains many mutations that have been identified in all four VOCs (Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma) and three VOIs (Kappa, Eta and Lambda) as well as additional mutations. Many of the shared mutations have been associated with improved ACE2 binding or furin cleavage, and reduced neutralisation activity, raising concern about the transmission potential of this variant. The next step is determining the functional impact of these mutations and to find out if they give it a replication advantage over the Delta variant.

The C.1.2 lineage is continuing to grow, and as of 20 August 2021, there were 80 C.1.2 sequences in GISAID, and the variant has now been detected in Botswana and in the Northern Cape of South Africa. Note that this study is yet to have the peer review process completed.

Source: MedRxiv

Keeping an Eye on B.1.621’s Immune Escape Potential

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First detected in Colombia in January, the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.621 was recently named a ‘variant of interest’ by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, reports MedPage Today. So far, neither the World Health Organization nor the CDC has elevated it to this status and it hasn’t received a greek letter designation yet.

B.1.621 has been detected in the US, though it (along with version B.1.621.1) currently accounts for just about 1% of all cases in the country. In the state of Florida, though, recent data from the University of Miami showed that 9% of cases in the Jackson Memorial Health System were B.1.621 as of the second week of July.

Last week, seven residents in a Belgian nursing home died after being infected with B.1.621, despite the fact that all of them had been vaccinated (though which vaccine was not disclosed. All of the deceased were in their 80s or 90s, and some were in poor health already, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst, who conducted tests on the virus found in the nursing home, Reuters reported. A total of 21 residents had been infected with the variant, along with several staff members. However, infected staff only had mild symptoms. B.1.621 makes up less than 1% of known cases in Belgium overall, according to Reuters.

Public Health England said that as of 2 August, there have been 32 cases (PDF) of the variant in England, with the majority (19%) being detected in London. This new variant has E484K and K417N mutations, making it similar to the Beta variant (B.1.351), prompting concern that B.1.621 could have similar immune escape properties, the agency noted.

In a recent risk assessment (PDF), Public Health England said that there is lab evidence of a reduction in pseudovirus neutralisation in the serum of vaccinated or previously Delta-infected individuals.
However, the agency noted that the trajectory of this new variant depends on its growth and expansion, and currently there’s no sign that it’s outcompeting Delta and it also seems unlikely that it’s more contagious. Still, its immune escape properties could contribute to future changes in growth, they warned, and other epidemiological events could influence whether it becomes established in the UK.

A recent paper in Lancet Infectious Diseases found two cases of B.1.621 involving community transmission, at a time when 99% of cases were due to the Delta variant. Both of these cases however occurred among unvaccinated individuals.

However, the dominance of Delta seems to be keeping other variants at bay, at least for now.

Source: MedPage Today

Epsilon and Delta Variant Mutations Allow Immune Evasion

Researchers found that the L452R mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, common to two mutant strains, the Epsilon and Delta, can evade cellular immunity through the human leukocyte (HLA) A24 and can increase viral infectivity.

The study, by researchers at the Kumamoto University and Weizmann Institute of Science, was published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. It showed emerging mutations L452R and Y453F in the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding motif evade (HLA) A24-restricted cellular immunity. The L452R mutation also enhances spike stability, viral fusogenicity, and viral infectivity. Hence, the findings suggest that HLA-restricted cellular immunity potentially affects the evolution of viral phenotypes.

Emerging variants of concern (VOC) may escape immune responses induced by vaccination or natural infection, threatening global vaccination efforts.

The first reported and well-studied mutant contains a D614G substitution in the spike (S) protein. The D614G mutation has recently been shown to enhance the binding affinity of SARS-CoV-2 to the ACE2 receptor. It is also more infectious and easily transmissible. However, there is no evidence suggesting that the D614G variant is tied to increased lethality.

At the end of 2020, the emergence of new variants was reported – the B.1.1.7 (Alpha), the B.1.351 (Beta), and the P.1 (Gamma) in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, respectively. At the end of 2020, another lineage, the B.1.427 also called the CAL.20C, occurred in California, United States.

The Delta variant is becoming dominant globally, and has been linked to increased infectivity, transmissibility, severe illness, and even death.

Interestingly, mutated viruses are mainly due to error-prone viral replication, and the spread of new variants is linked to their escape from immune responses. SARS-CoV-2 mutants may resist neutralising mediated antibodies from COVID patients and vaccinated individuals.

Further, the new emerging variants may escape the cellular immunity conferred by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), which recognise non-self epitopes present on virus-infected cells through the HLA class I molecules. This is called CTL-mediated antiviral immunity.

Human CTLs were recently shown to be able to recognise HLA-restricted SARS-CoV-2-derived epitopes. Also, the functionality of virus-specific cellular immunity correlates inversely with COVID-19 severity. Thus, CTLs play pivotal roles in controlling SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The team explored the potential emergence of SARS-CoV-2 mutants that can evade HLA-restricted cellular immunity in the current study.

The team used immunological experiments to show that an antigen to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is strongly recognised by the HLA-A24-restricted cellular immunity, which is often seen in Japanese people.

The team also conducted a large-scale sequence analysis of SARS-CoV-2 strains and demonstrated that HLA-A24 could recognize mutations in the spike protein region.

The team found that at least two naturally occurring substitutions in the receptor-binding motif of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the L452R and Y453F identified in the B.1.427 and B1.1.298, can be resistant to the HLA-A24 cellular immunity.

The mutants also increase ACE2 binding affinity. Pseudovirus experiments show that L452R also enhances viral infectivity. The L452R mutation does so by stabilising the S protein, enhancing viral replication.

“These data suggest that HLA-restricted cellular immunity potentially affects the evolution of viral phenotypes and that a further threat of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is its ability to escape cellular immunity,” the team concluded in the study.

Investigating the L452R mutation further should be a priority since it is borne by the highly infectious Delta variant. 

Source: News-Medical.Net

Woman, 90, Succumbs to Double COVID Variant Infection

Double COVID Variant Infection

Researchers in Belgium report on the case of a 90-year-old woman who was simultaneously infected with two different COVID variants.

On March 3 2021, the woman, with an unremarkable medical history, was admitted to a Belgian hospital after a spate of falls. She tested positive for COVID on the same day. She received nursing care at home, where she lived alone, and had not received a COVID vaccination.

At first, no signs of respiratory distress were seen, and oxygen saturation was good. However, she went on to develop rapidly worsening respiratory symptoms, and died five days later.

PCR testing revealed that she had been infected by two different strains of the virus — one which originated in the UK, known as B.1.1.7 (Alpha), and another that was first detected in South Africa (B.1.351; Beta).

“This is one of the first documented cases of co-infection with two SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern”, says lead author and molecular biologist Dr. Anne Vankeerberghen from the OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium. “Both these variants were circulating in Belgium at the time, so it is likely that the lady was co-infected with different viruses from two different people. Unfortunately, we don’t know how she became infected.”

The Alpha variant had been detected in the south east of England in December and within weeks, this variant displaced the viral strains circulating there. Since then, it has spread to more than 50 countries, including Belgium. The Beta variant was reported on December 18, 2020, and has since spread to 40 countries, which also includes Belgium.
Scientists in Brazil reported in January 2021 that two people had been simultaneously infected with two different strains of the coronavirus—the Brazilian variant known as B.1.1.28 (E484K) and a novel variant VUI-NP13L, which had previously been discovered in Rio Grande do Sul. However, this study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.

“Whether the co-infection of the two variants of concern played a role in the fast deterioration of the patient is difficult to say”, said Vankeerberghen. “Up to now, there have been no other published cases. However, the global occurrence of this phenomenon is probably underestimated due to limited testing for variants of concern and the lack of a simple way to identify co-infections with whole genome sequencing.”

She continued, “Since co-infections with variants of concern can only be detected by VOC-analysis of positive samples, we would encourage scientists to perform fast, easy and cheap VOC-analysis by PCR on a large proportion of their positive samples, rather than just whole genome sequencing on a small proportion. Independent of the technique used, being alert to co-infections remains crucial.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Emerging Variants Threaten a Worsening of the Pandemic

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Progress against the COVID pandemic has been impeded by the emergence of new variants of concern (VOC), and new ones may further worsen and prolong it.

VOCs increase the transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and hence raise the reproduction number. Furthermore, they enhance the immune escape capabilities of the virus and blunt the effectiveness of available vaccines. Finally, they increase the pathogenicity of the infection.

Alpha, Beta, and Gamma VOCs with the N501Y mutation replaced the initial wild-type SARS-CoV-2 strains in Ontario, Canada, and then the Delta variant dominated during the period between February to June 2021. While enhanced virulence of VOCs having the N501Y mutation has been reported, there is a lack of comprehensive analyses that demonstrate increased virulence of the Delta variant.

Researchers from Toronto University, Canada, recently showed that these emerging VOCs were linked to increased virulence, as determined by hospitalisation risk, ICU admission, and mortality. This study is currently available on the medRxiv preprint server.

The researchers created a retrospective cohort of patients testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Ontario and screening for VOCs between February 3 and July 1, 2021. Case data was gathered from the Ontario provincial Case and Contact Management (CCM) database. All PCR positive COVID-19 specimens with a cycle threshold (Ct) ≤ 35 were screened for the N501Y mutation using the real-time PCR assay from the Public Health Ontario Laboratory. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was performed on 5% of specimens regardless of the presence of mutations.

Results show that infection by VOCs with the N501Y mutation significantly elevated risk of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death in patients in Ontario.

Compared to non-VOC strains of SARS-CoV-2, the increase in risk associated with N501Y-positive variants was 138% (105-176%) for ICU admission; 74% (62-86%) for hospitalisation; and 83% (57-114%) for death, after adjusting for age, sex, and comorbidity. Increase in risks associated with the delta variant was even higher- 241% (163-344%) for ICU admission; 105% (80-133%) for hospitalisation; and 121% (57-211%) for death.

VOCs with the N501Y mutation were found to be associated with a significantly higher risk of hospitalisation, ICU admission, and death in infected individuals in Ontario, Canada. They also reveal that the Delta variant, becoming dominant in Ontario, has increased these risks even further.

“Individuals infected with VOCs were, on average, younger and less likely to have comorbid conditions than those infected with non-VOC, but nonetheless had higher crude risks of hospitalisation and ICU admission,” the authors found.

According to the authors, the clear and significant elevation of risks of even delayed outcomes such as death visible in their analysis is remarkable given the relatively small number of delta variant infections in the time period of this study. The fact that Canada is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of COVID vaccination rates has certainly mitigated the impact of these VOCs.

In summary, the researchers showed that despite excellent vaccination rates in Ontario, Canada, and VOCs infecting predominantly younger and healthier individuals, these VOCs are associated with an increase in virulence and risk of death. In particular, the Delta variant is more virulent compared to previously dominant VOCs possessing the N501Y mutation. It is the authors’ view that the progressive increase in transmissibility, immune escape and virulence of emerging VOCs could result in the pandemic being more drawn out and deadly.

Source: News-Medical.Net

Preliminary Study Explains Why Delta Variant is So Infectious

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (purple) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

A preliminary study has possibly determined why the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant is more infectious and pathogenic than its ancestor.

Through a series of in vitro experiments, researchers have discovered that variant’s enhanced ability to induce cell-to-cell fusion (syncytia) and reduced susceptibility to vaccine and infection-induced antibodies together help make the Delta variant more infectious than previously circulating variants. The study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, is currently available on the bioRxiv preprint server.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has undergone more than 12 000 mutations since it was first detected in December 2019, most of which are neutral and do not contribute to viral evolution. However, the acquisition of specific mutations in structural and non-structural proteins has caused the emergence of novel, more virulent SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Spike protein mutations are particularly concerning as they can significantly influence viral infectivity, virulence, and immune evasion ability.

The B.1.617 lineage drove a massive surge in new COVID cases in India. This lineage is further divided into three sub-lineages, namely B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3. Although these emerged first in India, the B.1.617.2 or Delta variant or soon became dominant in many countries, including South Africa where it has driven a new surge of infections, particularly in Gauteng Province. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the Delta variant as a ‘Variant of Concern’ (VOC) due to its significantly increased infectivity and pathogenicity.

In the current study, the scientists have evaluated the susceptibility of the Delta variant to neutralisation by vaccine or natural infection-induced antibodies.

Delta variant mutations 

The Delta variant’s spike protein contains nine mutations in the S1 subunit and one mutation in the S2 subunit. In the S1 subunit, five mutations are present in the N-terminal domain containing binding sites (epitopes) for neutralising antibodies. In addition, two mutations are present in the receptor-binding domain of the S1 subunit, which is known to influence antibody-mediated neutralisation and infectivity. Among the three remaining mutations, two are known to increase angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) binding, viral replication, and spike protein cleavage at the S1/S2 site.    

Delta variant host cell entry

Using African green monkey and human cells, the researchers found that Delta can enter kidney cells of both species with similar efficacy as the wild-type SARS-CoV-2. However, for human colon and lung cells, Delta showed 1.5-fold and 2-fold higher invading ability, respectively, compared to the wild-type virus. Since the Delta variant spike protein did not exhibit increased ACE2 binding, the scientists suggest that increased entry of B.1.617.2 into colon and lung cells is not mediated by enhanced ACE2 binding.

Besides inducing fusion between the viral envelope and host cell membrane, the spike protein triggers the fusion of infected cells with nearby cells to form large multinucleated cells, known as syncytia. Given the fact that spike-induced syncytia formation contributes to COVID pathogenesis, the scientists investigated whether Delta variant infection is associated with increased syncytia formation.

By conducting in vitro experiments on human lung cells expressing high levels of ACE2, they found that Delta spike expression leads to 2.5-fold higher and larger syncytia formation than the wild-type spike expression.

Delta variant’s immune evasion ability less than Beta?

The scientists tested the ability of four therapeutic monoclonal antibodies to neutralise the Delta variant, of which only Bamlanivimab failed. The other three antibodies exhibited similar efficacy in neutralising both wild-type virus and Delta variant.

Antibodies derived from COVID recovered patients, and BNT162b2-vaccinated individuals showed only slightly reduced efficacy in neutralising the Delta variant as compared to the wild-type virus. In contrast, the B.1.315 or Beta variant, first detected in South Africa, showed a significantly higher ability to evade infection- and vaccination-induced immunity.

In summary

The study showed that Delta’s increased ability to invade lung cells may enhance infectivity and pathogenicity. Though it has lower susceptibility to antibody-mediated neutralisation, it is possible that Delta may be effectively controlled by immunity developed in response to natural infection or vaccination.

Source: News-Medical.Net

Journal information: Arora P. 2021. Increased lung cell entry of B.1.617.2 and evasion of antibodies induced by infection and BNT162b2 vaccination. bioRxiv. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.06.23.449568v1

Cheaper Way of Monitoring Coronavirus Variants

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have developed a technology for cost-effective surveillance of the global spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.  This could help low- and middle-income countries monitor variants in their own borders.

From the beginning of the pandemic, thousands of viral genomes have been sequenced in order to reconstruct the evolution and global spread of the coronavirus. Dependent on these is the identification of particularly concerning variants.

To achieve global surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, the sequencing and analysis of numerous samples cost-effectively is key. Therefore, researchers in the Bienko-Crosetto laboratory at Karolinska Institutet and Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) in Sweden have developed a new method, COVseq, that can be used for surveillance of the viral genome on a massive scale at a low cost.

Multiplex PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is used to make more copies of the virus. The samples are then labeled and pooled together in the same sequencing library, using a previous method developed in their laboratory and now adapted for SARS-CoV-2 analysis.

“By performing reactions in very small volumes and pooling together hundreds of samples into the same sequencing library, we can sequence potentially thousands of viral genomes per week at a cost of less than 15 dollars per sample,” said co-first author Ning Zhang, postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet.

Comparative analyses of 29 SARS-CoV-2 positive samples revealed that COVseq could detect small changes in the genome as well as standard methods. Analysing 245 additional samples, they showed that COVseq could also detect emerging variants of concern well. COVseq’s key advantage over existing methods is cost-effectiveness.

“Our inexpensive method could immediately be used for SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance by public health agencies and could also be easily adapted to other RNA viruses, such as influenza and dengue viruses,” said last author Nicola Crosetto, senior researcher at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet.

Source: Karolinska Institutet

Journal information: COVseq is a cost-effective workflow for mass-scale SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance. Nature Communications, 23 June 2021, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24078-9

South African Variant is Now Called ‘Beta’ Under WHO Naming Scheme

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To avoid stigmatisation and simplify discussion, the World Health Organization has announced a new naming system for variants of the COVID virus with important mutations.

In an attempt to remove the country-associated stigma from the emergence of a variant, each will receive a name from the Greek alphabet.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s coronavirus lead, said that “no country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants”.

She added that these new labels for VOI/VOC are “simple, easy to say and remember and are based on the Greek alphabet, a system that was chosen following wide consultation and a review of several potential systems”.

In the new naming system, B.1.17., the variant first reported in Kent, England is designated Alpha, B.1351, the variant originating in South Africa is called Beta, the Brazilian variant P.1 is now Gamma and the B.1617.2 variant first reported in India is Delta. The variants of interest run from Epsilon to Kappa. The WHO has provided a table detailing the different names.

These Greek letters will not replace existing scientific names, though there are only 24 letters. If more variants are identified for naming, a new naming scheme will be announced, Ms Van Kerkhove told US-based website STAT News.

“We’re not saying replace B.1.1.7, but really just to try to help some of the dialogue with the average person,” she told the US-based website. “So that in public discourse, we could discuss some of these variants in more easy-to-use language.”

On Monday, a scientific adviser for the UK government said the country was now in the early stages of a third wave of coronavirus infections, in part driven by the Delta variant, which had emerged in India.

It is thought to spread more quickly than the UK’s Alpha variant, which was responsible for the surge in cases in the UK over the winter.

Vietnam has reported what appears to be a combination of those two variants. On Saturday, the country’s health minister stated that it could spread quickly through the air and described it as “very dangerous”.

Source: BBC News