Scientists have identified genetically distinct variants, but there is ongoing uncertainty and debate as to which of these mutations are significant.

CORONAVIRUS | Variant Contains a Mutation Scientists Suspect Is Improving the Virus’s Ability | PHOTO EFE

A variant of the coronavirus detected in California quickly became dominant in the state for five months and now accounts for more than half of infections in 44 counties, according to new research from scientists who believe this version of the virus should be declared a “variant. »Cause of concern that warrants an urgent follow-up investigation.

The United States has been intensifying scrutiny of the shape-shifting virus and scientists have identified genetically distinct variants, but there is ongoing uncertainty and debate about which of these mutations are significant and to what extent. The variant identified in California has emerged as potentially the first “variant of concern” to emerge in the United States, although it has not yet been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant contains a mutation that scientists suspect is enhancing the virus’s ability to bind to human receptor cells. If it really is more transmissible, as the new study argues, the California variant joins a growing list of virus variants circulating in the United States as the country continues to emerge from the devastating winter wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

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Those metrics have been on a positive trend since they peaked in January. It is unknown if the variants can significantly slow down or even reverse those trends. Forecasts must take into account multiple variables, including vaccination rates, ongoing virus mutation, and unpredictability of human behavior.

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But evidence from other countries suggests that highly communicable variants can be suppressed through public health interventions, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and meeting restrictions. Also by expanding immunity through vaccination campaigns.

“It basically doesn’t change the direction we are going, which is that we want to keep the cases in a place where we can control the pandemic. Simply having a more infectious variant circulating will not be the end of the world, ”said Charles Chiu, professor of laboratory medicine and infectious diseases at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

The study has not been peer reviewed. It will be submitted for publication soon, Chiu said. But the conclusion of his team is consistent with what has been seen several times around the planet: the virus is not static, but mutates as it circulates in the human species and improves in the infection of cells or collides with immunity. natural and vaccine-induced.

A separate study by scientists at the University of Washington, published Monday on the BioRxiv prepress server and not yet peer-reviewed, found that a mutation known as L452R in the California variant gives the virus an advantage in binding to receptors in human cells. The authors write that “positive selection for this mutation became particularly strong only recently, possibly reflecting viral adaptation to containment measures or increased immunity of the population.”

The Washington Post. Free translation by El Tiempo Latino

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