Scientists have spotted yet another potentially worrisome new coronavirus variant that seems to be spreading rapidly in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast.
Named B.1.526, this particular strain carries mutations that help it evade the body’s natural immune response, as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments, according to researchers.
“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7 percent in the past two weeks,” the team at Columbia University Medical Center wrote in a report that has yet to be published.
Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology announced that they have developed a software tool that also pinpointed the rising number of cases with the B.1.526 variant in New York.
“It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote in a preprint report.
The researchers warned that this mutant virus might not only be more contagious but may also cause more severe disease that could lead to more deaths.
Coronavirus variants have taken hold in other regions of the United States as well.
A team at the University of California, San Francisco, recently acknowledged that within the past five months, a new local 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 COVID-19 vaccines.
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 UK 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.
Viruses like the coronavirus are known to continuously evolve, and what concerns scientists even more is that the West Coast and New York City variants 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.
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.