An alleged hybrid mutation of the Delta and Omicron strains of the virus has raised many questions about the future of the pandemic. But a growing number of experts insist that it is most likely a false alarm.
By Anastasia Safronova, RT Editor-in-Chief
Last week, a group of Cypriot scientists claimed to have discovered a new variant of Covid – a combination of the already recognized Delta and Omicron strains. They also gave it a sinister new name, “Deltacron”.
But the scientific community took the story with a grain of salt. Despite the research team claiming to have identified 25 cases of the new ‘variant’, a range of experts around the world have insisted that laboratory contamination was to blame for the discovery. Professor Leondios Kostrikis, who leads the team of researchers from Cyprus, defended Deltacron in an email sent to Bloomberg. Cases identified “indicate evolutionary pressure on an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not the result of a single recombination event”, he said at the exit.
The Omicron-Delta ‘Hybrid’ Gets an Ominous Name
However, skepticism remains high. Professor Jose Antonio Lopez Guerrero, from the Department of Molecular Biology at the Autonomous University of Madrid, told RT that contamination during research is the most likely cause. A combination of variants can occur, he said, but the chances of that happening are extremely low.
“While Omicron is so widely available right now, it might develop some sort of mixed infections, like a mixture with Delta,” he said. “But that would be a very rare case; the possibility is slim.
Vincent Marechal, professor of virology at the French Sorbonne University in Paris, is also not ready to confirm whether Deltacron is real. “It is difficult for me, until the data is submitted for publication, to give a scientific answer [as to] whether Deltacron exists or not”, said the teacher.
The verdict seems to be that it is possible – but unlikely.
The World Health Organization has yet to officially comment on the matter, but in a bid to allay widespread fears, its technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, urged people not to use the term ” Deltacron” as it was. “probable contamination during sequencing.”
Jumping late here: let’s not use words like deltacron, flurona or flurone. Please 🙏These words imply a virus/variant combination and it does not happen. “Deltacron” is a probable contamination during sequencing, #SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve and see flu co-infection 🧵 below. https://t.co/rNuoLwgCzN
— Maria Van Kerkhove (@mvankerkhove) January 10, 2022
This public desire to remain objective was also reflected in their demand that people refrain from using terms like “flurona or flurone,” in reference to another disturbing episode which hit the headlines in the media at the start of the year. A young woman in Israel was hospitalized with both Covid and the flu. Fortunately, her symptoms were mild, so she was quickly discharged from the hospital.
His case was not the first. In 2020, there have been several reports that both infections could strike at the same time. And with headlines full of alarming-sounding new Covid strains named after letters of the Greek alphabet, the mere mention of a word like “flurona” was apparently enough to scare many off.
However, Professor Lopez clarified the situation to RT. “The case of flurona is not a disease. It’s a co-infection with two different viruses. A mix of Covid and flu cannot happen,” he said.
Professor Marechal explained the mechanism: “Recombination is a genetic process that can occur when two species are very close to each other. It’s quite similar to sexual reproduction – you can have children with another human, but not with an animal. The flu and the coronavirus belong to two different families. They cannot intersect. »
Even if it turns out that Deltacron is indeed a false alarm, the world still faces enough trouble to deal with Omicron, which is the current dominant strain. Due to its high transmission capacity, it is spreading so quickly that some states are tightening anti-Covid measures and promoting compulsory vaccination – fueling the anger of citizens opposed to such a policy. According to WHO estimates, in six to eight weeks more than half of Europe could be infected.
“I personally thought the pandemic would end with Delta,” Professor Lopez continued. “But then Omicron came along and changed the rules of the game.”
But there is a glimmer of hope. Many experts around the world have noted that the symptoms caused by the latest strain are milder than those of the previous variants.
Professor Marshal said, “Omicron is less virulent – or so we hope – than Delta, for example. But it is very transmissible, mainly because the incubation period is shorter. It is very well designed to transmit in the population with immunity. The vaccine barrier is not as effective as expected, but vaccination provides protection against hospitalization.
Professor Lopez also pointed out that the high transmittance must be taken into account. “Omicron infects many people around the world, so there will be a large number of people with natural immunity after the disease, as well as those with immunity given by vaccines. So this high level of immune protection would work against other variants, said the teacher. “But this result is still a theory. In practice, there may be another variant, worse than Omicron, and we would all be back to square one.
While this is undeniably a worrying prospect, the apparent confirmation that a hybrid mutation like Deltacron is unlikely will come as a relief to millions. But experts take nothing for granted.
Professor Marshal concluded, “We can’t predict anything: we have to learn not to predict, because most of the predictions that have been made about Covid have turned out to be wrong.
“But, as a virologist, I think a lot of people will get infected, and that immunity will probably decrease the risk of severe cases. It’s not the fact that we won’t have a new wave, it’s more the fact that it won’t be that important for the health system.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.