The delta variant, first discovered in India in December 2020 before it spread around the globe, has been making headlines in recent days because it has a new mutation: delta plus.
Scientists in the U.K. are investigating new concerns about the delta plus variant, also known as AY.4.2, amid rising caes. They are concerned about whether delta plus is more transmissible than the delta variant and whether it could undermine covid-19 vaccines.
At a time when infections in the U.K. are rising rapidly, the delta plus mutation now accounts for about 7-to-8 percent of the new covid-19 cases that have been genetically sequenced. Other countries that have reported a case of the delta plus AY.4.2 mutation include the U.S., Israel, and Russia.
Delta plus looks very similar to the delta variant, with the only known difference being an additional mutation, K417N, in the virus spike protein that allows it to infect healthy cells.
It has three worrying characteristics: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response, which could reduce the efficacy of a lifesaving therapy given to some hospitalized covid patients.
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AY.4.2 is reported to be 10-to-15 percent more transmissible than the standard delta variant, but scientists say it is still early to be sure it is responsible for an increase in covid-19 cases in the U.K. and other parts of the world.
“Because delta has now been the dominant mutant in several regions for some six months and not been displaced by any other variants, the hope has been that delta perhaps represented the peak mutation performance achievable by the virus. AY.4.2 may be starting to raise doubts about this assertion,” said Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, in a CNBC interview.
There are still several unknowns around the latest delta variant, with public health officials saying it is too early to know whether it poses a greater risk than other variants.
Experts in Russia say that the emergence of a new variant is likely to aggravate the epidemiological situation but not as fast as expected.
While it is a lot less widespread in the U.S. than the delta variant, delta plus or AY.4.2 has been detected in California, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia, Newsdesk reported on Tuesday.
“UK reported its biggest one-day Covid case increase in 3 months just as the new delta variant AY.4 with the S:Y145H mutation in the spike reaches 8% of UK sequenced cases,” tweeted Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under former President Donald Trump.
“We need urgent research to figure out if this delta plus is more transmissible, has partial immune evasion?”
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