Two teams of researchers found that a new type of corona virus is spreading rapidly in New York City, and it carries a worrisome mutation that may impair the effectiveness of vaccines.
The new form, called B.1.526, first appeared in samples collected in the city in November. By the middle of this month, it was responsible for one in four viral sequences appearing in a database shared by scientists.
One study was on the new variant, led by a group at Caltech Posted on the Internet Tuesday. The other, by researchers at Columbia University, was submitted to a prepress server but has not yet been published.
Neither studies have been examined through peer review and have not been published in a scientific journal. But the consistent results indicate that the prevalence of the variable is real, the experts said.
“It’s not particularly good news,” said Michael Nussenwig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University who was not involved in the new research. “But just knowing that is a good thing because then maybe we can do something about it.”
Dr. Nussenwig said he was more worried about the alternative in New York than quickly Spread in California. Another new infectious species has been discovered in Britain, and it is now responsible About 2000 cases In 45 countries. It is expected to become the most widespread form of coronavirus in the United States by the end of March.
Researchers are examining the genetic material of the virus to see how it might change. They are examining the genetic sequence of the virus from a small percentage of those infected to map the emergence of new copies.
California Institute of Technology researchers discovered a high B.1.526 level by scanning for mutations in hundreds of thousands of viral genetic sequences in a database called GISAID. “There was a pattern being repeated, and a group of isolates concentrated in the New York area that I didn’t see,” said Anthony West, a computational biologist at the California Institute of Technology.
He and his colleagues found two copies of the coronavirus that are getting more frequent: one with E484K mutation Seen in South Africa and Brazil, where it is believed to help the virus partially bypass vaccines; And another has a mutation called S477NWhich may affect how tightly the virus attaches to human cells.
By mid-February, the two together accounted for about 27 percent of New York City’s viral sequences deposited in the database, Dr. West said. (Currently, they are both grouped together as B.
Columbia University researchers took a different approach. They sequenced 1142 patient samples at their medical center. They found that 12 percent of those infected with the coronavirus were infected with the variant containing the E484K mutation.
Patients infected with the virus carrying that mutation were about six years older, on average, and more likely to be hospitalized. Dr. David Hu, director of the AIDS Research Center, Aaron Diamond, said that while the majority of patients were found in neighborhoods close to the hospital – especially Washington Heights and Inwood – there were several other cases spread throughout the metropolitan area.
“We’re seeing cases in Westchester, the Bronx, Queens, the bottom of Manhattan and Brooklyn,” said Dr. Hu. “So it appears to be widespread. It’s not a single outbreak.”
The team also identified six cases of the kind that struck Britain, two infections of a variant identified in Brazil, and one case of the type that had acquired South Africa. Dr Hu said the latter two had not been reported in New York City before.
Dr. Hu said that university investigators have informed authorities in New York state and the city, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He and colleagues plan to sequence about 100 viral genetic samples per day to monitor the variant spike.
Other experts said the sudden appearance of coronavirus variants was worrying.
“Given the E484K or S477N involvement, combined with the fact that the New York area has a great deal of permanent immunity to the spring wave, this is definitely something to watch,” said Christian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San. Diego, who was not involved in the new search effort.
The E484K mutation arose independently in various parts of the world, and is an indication that it offers the virus a major advantage.
“Variables that have an advantage will rise very rapidly in frequency, especially when the numbers generally decline,” said Andrew Reed, an evolutionary microbiologist at Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. team is I mentioned in January The monoclonal antibody made by Eli Lilly, one of the monoclonal antibodies in a cocktail made by Regeneron, is incapable of a specific substitute in South Africa.
Several studies have now shown that variants containing the E484K mutation are less susceptible to vaccines than the original form of the virus. Dr Nussenwig said the mutation interferes with the activity of a class of antibodies that nearly everyone makes.
He said: “People who have recovered from the Corona virus or who have been vaccinated are very likely to be able to fight this alternative, and there is no doubt about that.” But “they might get a little sick because of that.”
He added that it may transmit the infection to others and keep the virus spreading, which may delay the herd immunity.
But other experts were a little more optimistic. “These things are slightly less controlled by the vaccine, but they are not orders of magnitude, which is what will scare me,” said Dr. Reid.
As the virus continues to evolve, vaccines will need to be modified, “but in the blueprint of things, these are not major concerns compared to no vaccine,” said Dr. Reid. “I would say the glass is three quarters full, compared to what we were last year.”