British scientists are trying to determine whether the rapid spread in the south of England of a new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 is linked to key mutations they have detected in the strain, they said on Tuesday.
The mutations include changes in the importance of the “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to infect human cells, said a group of scientists following the virus’s genetics, but it is unclear whether they do so. infectious.
“Efforts are being made to confirm whether or not any of these mutations contribute to increased transmission,” Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium scientists said in a statement.
The new variant, which scientists in the UK have called “VUI – 202012/01” includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein, which – in theory – could lead to the easier spread of Covid-19 among humans.
The British government on Monday cited an increase in new infections, which it said could be partly linked to the new variant, as it moved its capital and many other areas to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions.
As of Dec. 13, 1,108 cases of the new variant Covid-19 have been identified, predominantly in southern and eastern England, Public Health England said in a statement.
But there is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe Covid-19 infections, scientists said, or that it would make vaccines less effective.
“Both questions require further rhythmic studies,” said COG-UK scientists.
Genetic mutations or changes occur naturally in all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, as they reproduce and circulate in human populations.
In the case of SARS-CoV-2, these mutations accumulate at a rate of about one to two mutations per month globally, according to COG-UK geneticists.
“As a result of this ongoing process, many thousands of mutations have already appeared in the SARS-CoV-2 genome since the virus first appeared in 2019,” they said.
Most of the mutations observed so far have had no apparent effect on the virus and only a minority are likely to change the virus in a significant way – for example, making it more able to infect humans, more likely to cause severe disease, or less. sensitive to natural or vaccine-induced immune defenses.
Susan Hopkins, PHE’s medical advisor, said the virus is not expected to evolve and it is important to quickly observe any changes to understand the potential risk.
She said the new variant “is detected in a wide geography, especially if increased cases are detected.”
(This story was published from a wireless agency feed, with no text changes. Only the title was changed.)
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