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Explainer: Covid-19 new variant “Delta Plus” detected – Here’s what we know

We’re almost two years into the pandemic, and while many aspects of life are back to normal, Covid-19 hasn’t disappeared altogether. A recent new descendant of the Delta variant (which is the dominant variant in the UK) is causing a spike in infections. Though medical experts are still trying to understand the variant, informally, it’s now called AY.4.2, or Delta Plus.

But what is Delta Plus, and should we be worried about it?

It’s a relative of the delta variant, identified by British scientists last month. Because it isn’t a variant of interest or concern, it has not yet been officially named after a letter of the Greek alphabet, like the other variants.

The variant has two mutations in the spike protein, which helps the coronavirus invade the body’s cells. These changes have also been seen in other versions of the virus since the pandemic started, but haven’t gone very far, said Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London.

According to the government, 6% of UK cases (that have been genetically sequenced) are different to the dominant variant, Delta. Included in that 6% is Delta Plus, which researchers have warned could contain mutations that give the variant survival advantages.

The good news is, experts, think the variant is unlikely to become widespread or become vaccine-resilient. Although tests are currently being carried out to see what kind of a threat Delta Plus might pose. At the moment, Delta Plus isn’t considered one of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s ‘variants of concern’ nor is it a ‘variant under investigation, which should come as some reassurance.

In the UK, the original Delta variant was classified as a variant of concern back in May 2021. Before that, the dominant variant here had been Alpha. But the emergence of new variants needn’t trigger alarm bells in your head just yet, as there are thousands of variants of Covid across the world. That’s because the virus (as with any virus) is constantly mutating, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see an end to the emergence of new variants.

Fast forward to August, scientists discovered Delta Plus (aka AY.4.2) in the UK. Cases of the variant have been slowly increasing since then, which is why Delta Plus has been put on the government’s watch list.

“It is potentially a marginally more infectious strain. It’s nothing compared with what we saw with Alpha and Delta, which were something like 50 to 60 per cent more transmissible. So, we are talking about something quite subtle here and that is currently under investigation,” said Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, in an interview with the BBC.

Professor Balloux continued, “It’s good that we are aware. It’s excellent that we have the facilities and infrastructure in place to see anything that might be a bit suspicious. At this stage I would say wait and see, don’t panic. It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something disastrous like we saw previously.”

Is the AY.4.2 or Delta plus variant more transmissible?

Health experts say there is nothing in the AY.4.2 mutation that is intrinsically dangerous, or makes vaccines less effective, or causes more severe illness. Scientists say the spike protein mutations its exhibits have been found in other variants, too, but none of those was a variant of concern. While it has not been proven to be significantly more transmissible, Health Experts say the AY.4.2’s secondary attack rate – the probability of an infection occurring in a group of people—in UK household settings is 12.4%. For the delta variant, it is 11.1%.

They interpreted this to mean that, in the same household, there are higher chances of an infection spreading if it has the AY.4.2 mutation.

Does AY.4.2 lead to more severe illness?

There is no clear indication from the UK that AY.4.2 leads to more severe illness, according to initial analyses based on emergency visits and hospitalisations.

This story is supported by Journalists for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting Covid-19 project.

www.zamireports.com | Ghana.

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