Public health experts have been learning more and more about variants of the coronavirus as the virus continues to mutate and spread throughout the world. But while B.1.1.7 (the UK variant), B.1.351 (the South African variant), and P.1 (the Brazilian variant) have received a lot of attention, another has emerged here in the US.
B.1.427 / B.1.429, two forms collectively referred to as the “California variant” as they share three key mutations, has spread greatly since their initial detection in July 2020 in Los Angeles County; in fact, experts predict that the “homegrown strain” will be responsible for 90% of the state’s coronavirus infections by the end of March, Los Angeles Times reports.
Early research suggests that this particular variant may be more infectious and potentially could cause more serious illness than the initial dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 (also known as the novel coronavirus). This is what the experts know so far.
What is B.1.427 / B.1.429 and where does the variant come from?
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to release official data on the variant, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have analyzed its mutations and published some key findings.
The California variant has three mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, indicating that it may be more infectious than the initial dominant novel coronavirus strain, the researchers say. The coronavirus uses the spike protein to adhere to human cells, where it then replicates and infects other cells. explains infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, MD, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Therefore, “changes in the spike protein are likely to change the ability of the virus to bind to human cells. That can make a virus more efficient. ”
It’s unclear exactly where the variant came from, but recent research by UCSF and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub found it to be prevalent – 53% of the 630 positive COVID-19 cases detected in the San Francisco Mission District in mid- o late January were represented by a key mutation known as L452R, which is shared by B.1.427 and B.1.429. Another preprint study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that there has been “dramatic growth” of the California variant in the state since November 2020.
Has the variant been detected beyond California?
The CDC has yet to release official numbers. So far, the investigation has focused primarily on the state of California, but is likely to expand over time. However, variant tracker Outbreak.info, a project by Su, Wu, and Andersen Labs at Scripps Research, reports that at least B.1.429 has been detected in most states.
How contagious is the California variant? And does it cause a more severe COVID-19?
The researchers behind the aforementioned prepress study also published a research letter in JAMA about your results. They found that most of the coronavirus strains in Southern California came from clade 20C before October 2020 (a clade is a group of viruses that come from the same source). This clade was the one that settled in New York in early 2020, when the pandemic began to increase in the US.
But researchers found that the California variant began to slowly spread across the state in late fall. As of January 2021, the California variant accounted for 35% of all COVID-19 cases in the state and 44% of all coronavirus cases in Southern California. “This increase happened at a time when California was booming,” explains David Cennimo, MD, assistant professor of infectious diseases in pediatric medicine at Rutgers New Jersey School of Medicine in New Jersey. “Then, it is implied that the variant causes a higher prevalence of cases, as well as a higher percentage of cases.”
Preliminary UCSF research that has yet to be released looked at a group of more than 300 COVID-19 patients and also found a link between B.1.427 / B.1.429 and more serious illnesses. The data, which was shared with Sciences, found that those who were infected with the California variant were nearly five times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and 11 times more likely to die compared to patients who carried other viral strains, even after adjusting the numbers to have account for age differences. , gender and ethnicity.
Are COVID-19 vaccines available still effective against the California variant?
Some preliminary laboratory studies suggest that the California variant may be less susceptible to infection-fighting antibodies in the blood of people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Sciences reported, but much more research is needed before any concrete claims about reduced efficacy can be made.
However, the experts we spoke to trust the vaccines available. Dr. Adalja anticipates that the California variant will not be a problem, as long as people receive both doses. “It is very difficult for a variant to completely escape the vaccine,” he says, which means that even if the vaccine is not as effective against this particular variant as it is against the parent strain of SARS-CoV-2, it can still be protective. against severe forms of COVID-19.
Dr. Cennimo agrees, but emphasizes that we will only know more with time and further studies. “I think vaccines should continue to be effective [against the California variant] since they have done well compared to other variants ”, he adds.
Should you be concerned about the California variant? What is the best way to stay safe?
Experts say the California variant is unlikely to be the only homegrown variant. “It is very likely that there are different variants in the US,” says Jennifer Surtees, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and director of the genome, environment and microbiome community of excellence at the School of Medicine. and Jacobs Biomedical Sciences from the University. in Buffalo.
In fact, a new variant was recently spotted in Ohio. “The fact that several lineages accumulated similar mutations indicates that these mutations could have a selective advantage,” he says. That’s why, Surtees says, it’s important for experts to track SARS-CoV-2 cases and their genetic makeup across the country.
Until researchers know more, now is not the time to compromise. Although cases are now declining across the country, more than 500,000 people have lost their lives to this virus, according to the most recent data from the CDC. The same COVID-19 prevention rules still apply: continue to practice social distancing, wear a well-fitting multi-layer mask around people outside of your home, and continue to wash your hands well and often.
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit the online resources provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO, and you local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
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