Cypriot researchers have identified a new Covid “Deltacron” strain in 25 patients, combining elements of Delta and Omicron variants
- Of the 25 cases of Delatcron, 11 had already been hospitalized with Covid
- Researchers say it is not yet known whether the strain is more contagious or dangerous
- Experts have warned of a hybrid variant that could be worse than Omicron
Cypriot researchers have identified a new Covid “Deltacron” strain in 25 patients, combining Delta and Omicron variants.
Leonidos Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, said the strain has a similar genetic structure to Omicron with the Delta genomes.
His team has so far identified 25 cases of the hybrid variant and it is still too early to assess its impact, Bloomberg said.
Cypriot researchers have identified a new Covid “Deltacron” strain in 25 patients, combining Delta and Omicron variants. Pictured: Vaccination queue in Cyprus
Of the 11 identified, patients were already hospitalized with Covid and 14 were among the general public.
Kostrikis said: “In the future we will see if this strain is more pathological or contagious, or if it will prevail.”
The researchers sent their findings to the international GISAID database, which monitors viruses.
Covid infections usually involve only one mutant strain, but in very rare cases, two can strike at the same time.
If they also infect the same cell, they may be able to exchange DNA and combine to form a new version of the virus.
Last month, the head of Moderna warned of a hybrid mutant, which he feared would be even worse than those currently spreading around the world.
Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief physician, warned of a new supervariant in December
Dr. Paul Burton, the chief physician of the vaccine maker, warned that the high numbers of Delta and Omicron make the combination likely.
He told members of the science and technology committee that it was “certainly” possible that they could exchange genes and launch an even more dangerous option.
Researchers have warned that these events, scientifically called “recombination events”, are possible, but require very specific conditions and compliance of mostly uncontrollable events.
Previously, only three Covid strains produced by virus-exchanging viruses have been reported, with the virus instead relying mostly on random mutations to create multiple variants.
The new variant was not launched within two months, when the Delta strain surpassed Alpha by this method.
In one case, recombination occurred in the United Kingdom when the Alpha variant merged with B.1.177, which first appeared in Spain, in late January 2021.
This led to 44 cases before finally disappearing.
Researchers in California said they identified another variant of recombination last February, with the Kent strain merging with B.1.429, which was first seen in the area.
This new tribe also led to very few cases and quickly disappeared.
Covid mostly relies on random mutations to develop new variants.
This happens when a virus makes copies of itself and errors appear in its genes.
In most cases, these changes are harmless, but may occasionally give rise to an advantage such as greater portability or better ability to avoid vaccines.
The Omicron variant is thought to have occurred in a persistent infection in an immunocompromised person. This allowed the virus to mutate several times to learn how to better infect humans and avoid previous immunity.
HOW CAN VIRUSES COMBINATE?
In order for a combined variant of the virus to appear, one person must be infected with two strains of coronavirus – probably from two separate sources – at the same time, and then the viruses collide in the body.
Once the viruses are inside the body, the way they spread is to force human cells to make more of them.
The coronavirus is made up of genetic material called RNA and, in order to reproduce, it must force the body to read the RNA and make exact copies of it.
When this happens, errors inevitably occur because it happens so quickly and often, and natural processes are imperfect.
If two viruses are in the same place at the same time and both are duplicated by the same cells, there is a chance that the RNA genes could mix, as well as confusion if someone dropped two decks of cards at once and picked them all up.
Most sites have dominant variants of the virus, so it is unlikely that anyone would become infected with two.
And in healthy people, there is probably only a window about two weeks before the body begins to develop immunity and successfully get rid of the first version of the virus.
This risk window could be shortened to the days for most people who develop Covid symptoms – which takes an average of five days – and then stay sick at home.
But huge, poorly controlled epidemics, such as those in the UK and US during the winter, significantly increase the risk of combined events simply because the number of infections is higher.