Two studies coming out soon raise concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus that scientists have been monitoring in California.
They indicate that the variant could not only be more contagious, but could also cause more serious illness. The research is in its early stages, has not been published or peer-reviewed, and needs more work, the researchers emphasized.
A team from the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed virus samples from recent outbreaks in California and found that it was becoming much more common. It was not seen in any September sample, but at the end of January it was found in half of the samples.
This variant, which the team calls B.1.427 / B.1.429, has a different pattern of mutations than variants that were first seen in the UK, called B.1.1.7, and in South Africa, B.1.351. One mutation, called L452R, affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the part that attaches to cells that the virus infects.
“A specific mutation, the L452R mutation, in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein may allow the virus to more efficiently couple to cells. Our data shows that this is probably the key mutation that makes this variant most infectious, ”Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology laboratory at UCSF, who led one of the studies, told CNN.
And they found some evidence that it is more dangerous.
“In this study, we observed an increased severity of disease associated with B.1.427 / B.1.429 infection, including an increased risk of high oxygen requirement,” they wrote in their report, which will be published on a prepress server later. this week after public health officials in San Francisco review it.
Chiu said it should be designated as a variant of concern and should be a priority for the study.
A second team from Unidos en Salud, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that offers rapid tests in the San Francisco Mission District, examined 8,846 people during the month of January and sequenced the virus from 630 of the samples. They also found a rapid increase in variant.
“The research findings indicate that the L452R variant represents 53% of the positive test samples collected between January 10 and January 27. That is a significant increase from November when our sequencing indicated that this variant comprised only 16% of positive tests, “said Dr. Diane Havlir, an infectious disease expert at UCSF who is helping to lead the study, said in a statement.
Havlir’s team is also preparing their findings for publication.