Experts have discovered what they believe is the world’s most mutated COVID strain – and there’s one detail in particular that has scientists worried.
Scientists have detected what is believed to be the world’s most mutated COVID strain as fears grow that new super variants may prolong the pandemic.
The team of experts revealed their findings in a preprint research paper, which reports the coronavirus variant carries 34 mutations.
And among those changes are 14 with the spike protein – the part of the virus which it uses to get inside human cells and make people sick.
The Brazilian variant has 18 mutations total, with 10 mutations in the spike, while the UK strain has 17 mutations, including eight in key protein.
The apparent new variant also contains the worrying E484K change – referred to as an “escape mutation” – which helps the virus beat antibodies and is coming in other worrying strains.
The variant of interest (VOI) was discovered in three air travellers who arrived in Angola from Tanzania in the middle of February.
Both countries have been on the UK red list since January.
Scientists from the Angola Ministry of Health, the Africa CDC, the Universities of Oxford and Cape Town, and multi-institution research body KRISP warned the variant needs “urgent study”.
They also warned the danger as Tanzania has a “largely undocumented epidemic” with “few public health measures in place”.
The country’s official case count is just 509 infections with 21 deaths – although it is expected the actual figures are much higher.
Tanzania’s government has engaged in COVID denialism and President John Magufuli called for prayers and herbal-infused steam to beat the virus up until his sudden death in March.
It is feared the rampaging spread of the virus as cases increase fuels these mutations – which may allow the bug to become more deadly, more transmissible and more adept at dodging antibodies.
Dr William A Haseltine, a former Harvard professor, told The Sun Online the new variant is of “considerable concern” due to its high number of mutations, the type of mutations and the fact it appears to come from a different virus “lineage”.
Most of the notable variants can be traced back to the B1 strain – but the new variants appear to have evolved from a different source.
He also raised concerns over the “vacuum of information” coming out of Tanzania which is hampering the monitoring of the potentially dangerous new mutations.
“These mutations could increase the concentration of the virus in infected people, which may help prolong the infection and increase transmissibility,” Dr Haseltine told The Sun Online.
“The Tanzanian variant demonstrates the enormous versatility of this virus. Originally, many expected this virus to be relatively stable but it is showing to us with this variant and others, that this is not actually the case.”
In the paper, the team warned the “constellation of mutations” could mean the variant is more resistant to antibodies and vaccines and also could be more infectious.