In only five months, a homegrown coronavirus strain that emerged in California has surged to become the dominant strain in the state.
The West Coast variant, which is actually two similar variants referred to as B.1.427/B.1.429 or CAL2.0C, is known to be more transmissible than its predecessors and has the ability to evade antibodies generated by currently available coronavirus vaccines, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco recently told the Los Angeles Times that the variant should be considered as dangerous as the newly surfaced strains from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.
“The devil is already here,” Dr. Charles Chiu, the study’s lead author, told the paper, adding that the mutant virus will likely account for 90 percent of the state’s infections by the end of next month.
“I wish it were different. But the science is the science.”
In the team’s findings, the data suggest that the variant is roughly 19 percent to 24 percent more transmissible. But in some cases—as in one particular nursing home outbreak—it was able to spread at a rate that was six times higher than that of its predecessors.
As for the United Kingdom variant, previous reports have contended that the mutant virus, also known as B.1.1.7, is about 45 percent more transmissible and up to 70 percent more deadly.
First identified in southeast England, that new strain is now responsible for the majority of new infections in the United Kingdom and has forced the country into national lockdown since January 4.
Chiu warned that the West Coast and UK variants have the potential to open the door to a “nightmare scenario,” in which the two viruses will come face-to-face in a single individual, swap their mutations, and create an even more lethal strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Viruses like COVID-19 are known to continuously evolve, and what concerns scientists even more is that the West Coast variant might only be the tip of the iceberg, as the United States appears to be incubating a number of its own unique coronavirus variants, another new research has suggested.
The study was able to pinpoint at least seven new “lineages” of the virus that evolved independently of one another, though they do seem to display the same genetic mutations. More troubling is the fact that the mutations appear in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells.
“When we see the same mutation appearing over and over, what that tells us is that there might be a reason why the virus keeps kind of selecting for this particular mutation,” Emma Hodcroft, one of the study’s lead co-authors, told the New York Times.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.