Over the past week, my inbox has been flooded with messages telling me that a new COVID-19 variant had been discovered in Cyprus. Called “Deltacron”, it is said to be responsible for a number of hospital admissions in the country.
I moaned at the thought of a new variant, and one that is said to be a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants sounded ominous. So I decided to dig a little.
I discovered that the news had only appeared on January 7, when researchers at the University of Cyprus Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, led by Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, claimed that they had encountered a new variant of the SARS-COV-2 virus. It had, they said, already infected at least 25 people. According to Dr. Kostrikis contained the variant Omicron-like genetic signatures within Delta genomes – hence the name “Deltacron”.
Cyprus’s health minister, Michalis Hadjipandelas, was quick to point out that the new variant was nothing to worry about at the time and that the sequence had been sent to GISAID, an open access database tracking the development of coronavirus.
The discovery of the new variant began to trend on Twitter, but experts immediately advised caution. The World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 expert, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, explained on Twitter that there was no such thing as “Deltacron” and that this was probably a “laboratory contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta sample”.
Other scientists quickly volunteered, and the overriding view was that this was not a new variant, but most likely a case of laboratory contamination. The mutations did not appear to have a recombinant pattern, they explained, suggesting that Omicron and Delta had not fused their genetic material, despite both circulating widely.
Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said that some form of laboratory contamination had probably led to an error in the interpretation of the genetic sequence, explaining that such errors were not uncommon in laboratories.
However, although “Deltacron” may not be here, it is theoretically possible for two coronavirus variants circulating at the same time to cross over and form a recombinant version of both variants. If someone is infected with both variants at the same time, then there is a small chance that both can infect a human cell at the same time. This increases the chances that their genetic material – RNA – will mix as they begin to multiply and divide inside the cells. In such a case, the new recombinant variant will include genetic material from both variants.
Thankfully, that does not seem to have happened yet, but it is not impossible. The best way to reduce the chances of variants merging to form recombinant variants is to reduce the number of infections in the community. The focus should only go beyond the scope of vaccines, although it is incredibly important to vaccinate the world, other measures are needed. An important step would be to ensure that there is clean air indoors through filtration and purification measures. It will reduce the number of virus particles in the air and reduce the chances of people picking it up. It would also help if all public health agencies around the world strongly recommend the use of FFP2 or N95 masks, which filter virus-containing aerosol particles from more effectively than cloths or surgical masks.
By implementing these measures, we could see a clear decrease in circulating virus and significantly reduce the chances of formation of a recombinant variant.
Recently, another term has emerged that combines two words – influenza and coronavirus. “Flurona” refers to cases where someone is infected with COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. It is not a separate disease, so although the names may have been merged into the term “Flurona”, viruses themselves are not fused together.
Influenza and SARS-Cov-2 are two different viruses that cause two different diseases, but due to the way viruses are structured and how they enter cells, it is possible to become infected at the same time with both viruses. If this happens, the infected person may have symptoms of both, but the viruses themselves will not merge and form a new virus.
Cases of human-to-human transmission of influenza and COVID-19 have been reported in Israel, the United States, Hungary, the Philippines, and Brazil at the same time. Cases of concomitant infections from both viruses were reported as far back as February 2020, before the very concept was invented.
That we are becoming more aware of it now may be a result of increased confusion. Shutdown restrictions and social distance measures imposed in many countries in the earlier stages of the pandemic led to lower incidence of influenza and other infections. But as countries begin to open up in an attempt to save their economies, even though the highly contagious Omicron variant is circulating, the usual infections such as colds and flu have begun to circulate again.
Although researchers know that it is possible to develop COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, it is too early to determine exactly how sick “Flurona” could make people, and it is also unclear how much influenza is circulating due to lack of routine testing for the virus. However, we know that older people and people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and conditions that weaken the immune system, are at greater risk for both viruses.
Getting vaccinated against both is the best way to protect yourself from “Flurona”. You will need both flu and COVID-19 vaccines as they are two different viruses and being vaccinated against one will not protect you from the other. You can even have both at the same time, in fact that was what I did with my COVID-19 booster in one arm and the flu shot in the other.
Good news: The IHU variant is not spreading
The variant, which has been named IHU or B.1.640.2, was first discovered in France at the end of last year and is known to have 46 separate mutations that are monitored for vaccine releases and increased transmissibility.
The variant has already been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant under surveillance”.
The IHU variant is named after the Institut Hospitalier Universitaire, the place where the cases were first discovered. The person identified as having the first case of this variant was originally from Cameroon and is said to be fully vaccinated. A total of 12 people were infected with the IHU variant, and all had traveled from destinations linked to the index case.
Researchers have begun to look at the mutations associated with B.1.640 and do not believe that it is likely to be as transmissible as Omicron, and it is therefore unlikely that it will spread to a larger number of people as it will be easily outcompeted by Omicron. While researchers were concerned about how the number of mutations would affect the variant’s transmissibility, it has not been detected outside the southern Alps region of France, and given that it is three months since the first case was discovered, it suggests that this is not the case. very transferable. We only hear about it now, as the genome sequencing is similar to Omicron.
Although they continue to monitor it for its ability to evade the protection that vaccines offer, the world’s focus remains on Omicron, and rightly so.
While some experts have said that they know too little about the B.1.640 variant to make assumptions about the exact course it will take, others believe that new variants can be expected as COVID-19 continues to spread, and this is one of them – and not all of them will get the kind of traction that you see with the Delta and Omicron variants.
WHO continues to ask everyone to pay attention and take the necessary precautions to avoid becoming infected with COVID-19, many of us will eventually get used to following this advice: wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, social distancing and regular hand washing.
It is also important that people take vaccinations as soon as possible to protect themselves from the virus.