It is no longer possible to keep up with the announcements of the Covid experts. We’ve just reassured ourselves about variable delta attenuation that here comes another, more serious one: appeared in Botswana, would contain 32 different mutations, making it more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant. It has already been recognized in South Africa and Hong Kong, and the English newspapers, always a little inclined to sensationalism, have already taken the “horror form”.
The new mutation will be called “no”, which is the thirteenth letter of the Greek alphabet: there are many types of virus that have been identified and christened so far. But this one has more spikes in the protein spike than any of its predecessors. Bad news, because messenger RNA vaccines work by teaching the immune system to recognize the coronavirus through the spike protein, which is used to infect the body’s cells.
The difference, according to Professor Francois Ballou, a geneticist at University College London, is likely to appear in persistent infection in a patient with a weakened immune system, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS. The new strain, which also has a scientific code, B.1.1.529, is a mixture of mutations that the Imperial College has called “terrible”: according to virologist Tom Peacock, it could be “worse than anything we’ve seen…even the delta variant that has spread quickly all over the world.
For every virologist who says one thing, there is another who says something else, and thus some scientists question the daily Mail They noted that the unprecedented number of mutations for Nu could make it very unstable, preventing it from spreading. So far, three infections have been detected in Botswana and six in South Africa. Another case was identified in a Hong Kong man who had recently returned from Africa.
A Downing Street spokesman said the new alternative was “not being seen as a problem” in the UK, but developments were being followed closely. Perhaps the large number of mutations occurred in a patient with a weakened immune system, since the virus was not detected for a very long time, and therefore had plenty of time to develop new ways to bypass defensive barriers through persistent mutations.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, emphasized that this mutant strain appears to be more effective at evading vaccine-induced immunity, but that much will depend on how the immune system judges the change and responds.
In its new form, the virus has incorporated several variants already present in recent months: it carries K417N and E484A mutations similar to those in the South African “Beta” variant, contains N440K, which is in the “delta”, S477N for the New York variant, and the P681H and N679K that has been rarely seen together. There is also the N501Y, which makes the viruses more transmissible that was seen in the Kent variant. A somewhat troubling cocktail, but perhaps also the assertion that Covid is firing the latest cartridges to still be able to spread despite vaccinations.
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