Mutated SARS-CoV-2 variant cause of increasing numbers of infections?
A new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was discovered in Great Britain, which is spreading more and more and could also be responsible for the renewed increase in the number of infections in individual regions. How dangerous is this mutated form of the virus?
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that a new variant of the coronavirus has been identified that may be responsible for the rising infections in the south-east of the country. In a recent article in the “British Medical Journal” (BMJ) it will be discussed what is known so far about this new SARS-CoV-2 variant.
The newly discovered variant is called “VUI-202012/01” (first “Variant Under Investigation” in December 2020) and is defined by a series of 17 changes or mutations, explains the “BMJ”. One of the most important is the “N501Y mutation in the spike protein, which the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.” This could theoretically lead to the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily.
How was the variant discovered?
According to the “BMJ”, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant was discovered by the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which carries out random genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples across the UK. “Since it was founded in April 2020, the consortium has sequenced 140,000 virus genomes from infected people,” reports the “BMJ”.
The data obtained can be used to track outbreaks and identify new virus variants. In a weekly report The consortium also informs about the findings to date.
How common is the new virus variant?
As of December 13, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant in the UK had been identified 1,108 times in almost 60 different local authorities. However, the number of actual infections is probably much higher, according to the “BMJ”. Most cases have so far occurred in the south-east of England, but cases have also been documented in regions further away (including Wales and Scotland).
The new virus variant was first discovered at the end of September and meanwhile it already accounts for 20 percent of the viruses sequenced in Norfolk, ten percent in Essex and three percent in Suffolk, reports the “BMJ”, citing the statements of Professor Nick Loman from the University of Birmingham at a Science Media Center briefing on December 15th.
Regarding the origin of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, Prof. Loman emphasized: “There is no data to suggest that it was imported from abroad, so it is likely that it developed in Great Britain.”
Is this variant spreading faster?
According to the British Health Minister Matt Hancock, initial analyzes also indicate that the new variant could be linked to the recent increase in cases in south-east England. However, it is not yet possible to say whether it is actually the cause of the increase.
“This variant is strongly related to where we are seeing rising rates of COVID-19. It is a correlation, but we cannot say that it is a causality, ”emphasizes Prof. Loman. Overall, there is a noticeable increase in this variant, “which is why we are concerned and urgently need to follow up and investigate it.”
Was the mutation to be expected?
Mutations occur naturally when the virus replicates and numerous mutations in the coronavirus are already known. But only a very small minority changes the virus in any significant way.
“Mutations are expected and are a natural part of evolution. Many thousands of mutations have already arisen, and the vast majority have no influence on the virus, but can be useful as a kind of barcode to monitor outbreaks, “the BMJ quoted the COG-UK director Sharon Peacock as saying.
How dangerous is the new coronavirus variant?
So far, it remains unclear whether the new virus variant leads to an increased risk of severe COVID-19 courses. In principle, mutations that make viruses more infectious do not necessarily make the viruses more dangerous, explains the “BMJ”. For example, the well-known variant D614G is believed to be more transmissible and therefore now circulating as the most common type in the UK, although it does not appear to result in a more severe disease.
It is currently being investigated whether the new variant favors severe COVID-19 courses, but so far there has been no evidence that this strain leads to more severe diseases, the BMJ sums up.
Does the vaccine also work against the mutated virus?
Although the new virus variant has mutations in the spike protein that the three leading vaccines target, vaccines produce antibodies against many regions in the spike protein, so it is unlikely that a single change would make the vaccine less effective, explains the “BMJ”:
“With this variant, there is no evidence that it eludes vaccination or a human immune response. But if there is a case of vaccination failure or reinfection then that case should be treated as a high priority for genetic sequencing, ”says COG UK Director Sharon Peacock.
However, as mutations will increase over time, the vaccine may need to be adjusted in due course. This also happens with the vaccines against influenza, since the influenza viruses mutate every year. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not mutate as quickly as the flu virus, and the vaccines that have so far proven to be effective in studies are types that can be easily adapted if necessary. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- British Medical Journal (BMJ): Covid-19: New coronavirus variant is identified in UK (veröffentlich 16.12.2020), bmj.com
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.