Identification of a new variant of the coronavirus in the UK

New variants of the corona virus appear when the virus makes copies of itself and the resulting copies undergo genetic mutations. Mutations that reach a variant may affect how the cells become infected or how fast the virus spreads; Therefore, scientists are monitoring the changes in the virus to determine which ones may be dangerous.

Matt HancockResearchers in Britain have found a new variant of the coronavirus that has infected about 60 local areas, the British Health Minister said on December 14. The new variant has caused more than 1,100 infections, according to the UK Public Health Organization (PHE). “A large number of cases of this variant of the virus have been reported in some areas, where the prevalence of Covid 19 is also significant,” the statement said. “It is not yet clear whether this variant is the cause of the increase in the number of cases or not.”

In other words, we still do not know if the new variant is spreading faster than the other variants of the virus. While an increase in the number of infections can be linked to a genetic mutation and cause that variant to spread more easily, it may have spread accidentally due to the interaction of infected people with others and the formation of transmission chains.

In the coming weeks, PHE and the World Health Organization will review the new variant and track its release to see if it is more transferable. the doctor Susan Hopkins, “The emergence of a new variant is not unexpected,” said the medical adviser to the British Test and Tracking Program. In fact, new variants of the virus have emerged throughout the world, and some of them have infected people more than other variants. “It is important to be aware of any changes quickly to understand the potential risk associated with each variant,” Hopkins said.

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Hopkins said there was currently no indication that the variant identified in the UK was causing more severe illness than other variants circulating in the community. In addition, there is no evidence that the performance of Covid 19 vaccines against this variant will be different. In general, a single genetic mutation is unlikely to reduce the efficacy of Covid vaccines. the doctor Alex Greeninger“Vaccines cause the immune system to make different types of antibodies that target different locations on the coronavirus,” says the University of Washington Medical Center Clinical Virology Laboratory.

Leading vaccines, including the now-approved Pfizer and Bivantek vaccines, specifically target the spike protein (the prominent structure on the virus that attaches to cells to initiate infection); But antibodies can attach to different places on the spike. If the spike mutates at only one point, the remaining set of antibodies can bind to other sites. Therefore, because the vaccine produces different types of antibodies, minor mutations in the virus should not reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. According to the PHE statement, this is likely to be the case in the new variant of the corona virus, which has a mutation in its spike protein.

To confirm that enough antibodies still detect the mutated virus, scientists can put the virus particles together in the laboratory, along with antibodies from the vaccine and the cells, to study the result, Greeninger said. the doctor William Schaffner“If the spike protein changes in such a way that it can at least escape the antibodies it is trying to attach to, the effectiveness of the vaccine will be impaired,” said an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. However, he believes that a slight change in the spike protein is probably not a problem; But in any case, scientists are studying it.

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In addition to examining antibody responses, scientists can study whether new mutations affect the function of the virus; For example, whether the new variant infects cells more efficiently than other variants. In laboratory studies, some mutations in the spike protein help the virus to bind more tightly to the ACE2 receptor (the virus’ preferred gateway to human cells), according to a report published in the August issue of Cell.

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According to Schaffner, the way a virus binds to cells in the laboratory is not always consistent with how normally it is infected. He believes that laboratory studies should be accompanied by data from real-world scenarios to determine how easily a particular variant of the virus spreads in the community. Scientists need similar field data to compare the two variants. For example, data that can compare the rate of propagation in care centers or schools or cities with similar limitations.

“We still don’t know much about the new variant that has appeared in the UK,” says Schaffner. Research by PHE and the World Health Organization and other scientific groups will provide insight into whether this mutation has caused significant changes in the biology of the virus. Based on more than a thousand reported cases of the new variant, this variant does not appear to cause more severe disease than other versions of the virus; However, it is not yet clear whether it is more portable.

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