In over ten nations, a new SARS-CoV-2 variation, the delta plus variant, has been discovered. While health officials express worry that the variation may have an increased capacity to transmit, they also remark that its transmissibility is likely comparable to that of the previous delta form.
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Governments and public health professionals continue to examine the best measures for limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 variations when they arise. The World Health Organization (WHO) is presently monitoring 11 strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
One of these variations, the delta variant — also known as the B.1.617.2 lineage — was discovered in December 2020 in India and rapidly became the most prevalent variety in the country.
It has shown a 40–60% increase in transmission compared to the previously dominant alpha form and is now the prevalent SARS-CoV-2 variation in the United Kingdom.
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Meanwhile, researchers have found another variety — the delta plus variant, also referred to as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1.
In a June 11 briefing, the United Kingdom’s Public Health England labeled it a “variant of concern,” and Indian officials followed suit on June 22.
Since then, 11 countries have reported a total of 197 COVID-19 cases caused by the SARS-COV-2 delta plus mutation.
The delta plus variation is a sublineage of the delta variant, with the only known change being an extra mutation, K417N, in the virus’ spike protein, which is required for infection of healthy cells.
Additionally, this mutation is found in the beta and gamma forms, which were discovered in South Africa and Brazil, respectively.
What dangers does this variation entail?
According to Reuters, the WHO stated that “at the present, this variation does not appear to be widespread, accounting for only a tiny proportion of delta sequences.”
Nonetheless, “Delta and other circulating variants of concern continue to pose a greater public health risk due to their increased transmission,” the WHO warned.
Additionally, since India designated this variant as a “variant of concern,” the country’s SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), which is comprised of 28 laboratories dedicated to whole-genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its evolving variants, has been monitoring delta plus’s evolution.
INSACOG has the following reservations about the delta plus variant:
- enhanced contagiousness
- enhanced binding to lung cell receptors
- Possibly decreased monoclonal antibody response
The spike protein binds to the surface receptors of a cell, allowing the virus to enter. As mentioned previously, a mutation in the protein may enhance this connection, therefore increasing transmissibility.
However, because this mutation is prevalent in other forms as well, it is unlikely to be a novel source of worry.
Additionally, virologist Dr. Jeremy Kamil of Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center told the BBC that “Delta plus may have a minor advantage in infecting and spreading among persons who were already infected during the pandemic or who have weak or partial vaccination protection.”
However, he remarked that this is not dissimilar to the delta variation.
Other specialists have also emphasized the third argument, namely that the variation may impair the efficacy of monoclonal antibody therapies.
These include bamlanivimab and etesevimab, as well as REGN-COV2 combination treatments, which have been found to be effective in treating mild to moderate COVID-19 when administered early in the disease’s course.
However, this decreased efficacy “is not a significant difference, given that the therapy is exploratory and only a small number of patients are eligible,” epidemiologist and vaccination specialist Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya told CNBC.
Numerous available COVID-19 vaccinations have been shown to prevent hospitalization and severe illness in patients with the preexisting delta variant.
The Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were very successful, with 96 percent and 92 percent efficacy following both doses, respectively. Additionally, research on the Moderna and Covaxin vaccines indicated that they were capable of neutralizing this viral strain.
There is inadequate evidence on the vaccinations’ efficacy against the delta plus form at the moment, although there have been no obvious indicators of the variation infecting persons who have received immunization. Additionally, no country with confirmed occurrences of the variation has reported an increase in infection rates.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has isolated the variation for the purpose of determining vaccination efficacy and has said that findings would be available in the coming days.
While the discovery of a new SARS-CoV-2 variation is undoubtedly alarming, there are currently no indications that delta plus is more infectious or deadly than the other forms.
Additional study and data from individuals infected with the delta plus variation are needed to determine the features of this variant and its capacity to promote COVID-19 transmission or severity.