Hybrid variant of coronavirus: What is known about deltacron?

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Sometimes there are things that get a meaningful name even before they exist. This was the case with “deltacron”. A researcher from Cyprus first reported a combination of the delta and omicron strains last January. It was later confirmed that it had been a contamination in the laboratory.

However, two months later, infections of this variant were detected in Europe and the US.

Confirmation of the hybrid variant

“Now it is quite clear that it is actually the deltacron variant,” confirms Luca Cicin-Sain, head of the department of Viral Immunology at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research.

For the World Health Organization (WHO) this fact is not a surprise: “We know this combination of delta AY.4 and omicron BA.1”, said the expert and WHO head of coronavirus, Maria van Kerkhove. For her, this was to be expected, since both variants are in full circulation.

Is deltracron more dangerous?

Although delta causes more severe cases and omicron is, above all, more contagious, this does not mean that the combination of both strains is dangerous.

An analysis of the genome sequence carried out by the French Pasteur Institute showed that deltacron contains mutations characteristic of both strains, according to the GISAID genomic sequencing database.

This viral union could possibly allow the hybrid variant to be more infectious, which is worrying, especially since anti-coronavirus measures are being relaxed in many countries, the pandemic could be prolonged and, due to the delta variant, there could be more severe courses. from COVID-19.

There is no reason to panic!

However, most experts react relatively calmly to deltacron. So far, there have only been a few isolated cases in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States. This would indicate that the hybrid variant is not as dangerous.

If that were a variant that actually spread faster and caused more severe cases, there would be many more samples by now.“, assures the immunologist Cicin-Sain. Of course, you have to be very attentive to the hybrid variant, but without causing alarm, he thinks.

Etienne Simon-Lorière of the Pasteur Institute also believes that, so far, the hybrid variant remains very rare and shows no signs of exponential growth. In other words: it does not show a worrying growth rate.

The American intensive care doctor Pierre Kory also warns on Twitter against panicking: The fact that the experts react relatively calmly to the new variant is also due to the fact that such combinations of Sars-CoV-2 variants have already occurred several times. times.

“This happens when we are in the transition phase from one dominant strain to another, in general, it is a scientific curiosity, but not much more,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, who previously led the COVID-19 genomics initiative at the British Institute Wellcome Trust Sanger.

How did deltacron originate?

According to the WHO, this was to be expected, because two variants of coronavirus, such as delta and omicron, circulate very strongly. This happens when people get infected with two strains of coronavirus at the same time. It’s very rare, but it already happened towards the end of 2021, when omicron had just replaced delta as the dominant variant.

As viruses multiply in the host cell, the genetic material may have mixed and combined into a hybrid variant. However, it is rather an exception, because only in very few cases can such a hybrid variant prevail, since it generally has no evolutionary advantage over the original strains.

Do vaccines protect against deltacron?

Neither vaccines nor boosters can prevent getting coronavirus. This is shown by the high numbers of contagion in recent weeks, for example, in Germany. This is mainly due to the fact that the omicron variant can partially evade the accumulated immune protection by means of an escape mutation.

Therefore, neither vaccinations nor prior infection are likely to fully protect against deltracron. However, vaccinations and boosters do at least protect against the severe course of COVID-19.

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