Science

Covid-19: B.1.1.529, this variant with a (very) worrying profile seen in Africa

This is the million dollar question: by what variant will the very dangerous Delta one day be supplanted? “Mu”, “Eta”, “Lambda” … The World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring a handful of possible suspects, all more concerning than the others in terms of contagion and vaccine leakage. If the danger still seems remote, in the middle of the fifth wave, it is very real. Proof of this is the recent accumulation detected in Brittany due to a so-called B.1.640, which is still being evaluated by the French health authorities.

The appearance of another variant, variant B.1.1.529, is another reminder that monitoring is required. The latter was discovered on November 11 in Botswana, reports the British newspaper The Guardian. So far only ten cases have been sequenced in three countries, therefore Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, in a traveler returning from the mentioned country. It is little, even if this figure does not say anything about its actual spread in these different states. Its particularity: it contains no less than 32 mutations of the Spike protein, which allows Covid to infiltrate our cells. As a reminder, the Delta variant only has nine, according to the Gisaid database.

A dangerous cocktail yet to be studied

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, sounded the alarm on Twitter. “Just discovered: a very small group of variants associated with southern Africa with a very long branch length and a really horrible Spike mutation profile.” The virologist mentions the presence of the K417N mutation, already present in the Beta and Gamma variants, but not in Delta. However, this would induce greater resistance to the vaccines. B.1.1.529 also carries the N501Y mutation, detected in the Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants, and according to the National Reference Centers (CNR) for the fight against communicable diseases and Public Health of France “increases the affinity of the virus by its receptor “. As well as the dreaded P681H mutation, which according to the same source could “contribute to increasing infectivity”.

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The cocktail is disturbing to say the least. “[Ce variant] it’s troubling and I haven’t said it from Delta. Please get vaccinated, take your booster and mask in public because mutations in this virus are likely to lead to a high leakage of neutralizing antibodies, “reacted virologist Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, still on Twitter.

Other scientists keep measured. Asked by The Guardian, Professor François Balloux, director of the UCL Institute of Genetics, was surprised by the number of mutations present in this variant. According to him, it may have evolved during an infection in a person with a very weakened immune system, for example someone who is HIV positive and does not receive treatment. “It is difficult to predict how transmissible it can be at this point. For now, it needs to be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no reason to worry too much unless it does. It starts to increase in frequency in the near future.” , reassures.

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“Yes, this variant has a high number of mutations in its Spike protein (…) But, we have seen previous variants that looked worrisome and never got off the ground. We should look and wait for more data to estimate why this is worrisome,” Dr. Emma Hodcroft, co-developer of the Nextstrain platform, which analyzes and lists in particular all Covid-19 mutations, on Twitter. It is still too early to be alarmed.

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Nicolas Bouzou (P. CHAGNON / HEALTHY COCKTAIL)Nicolas bouzou

Diary of a Liberal

France, Neuilly sur Seine, November 18, 2021, portrait of Alain Madelin, French politician.  He was minister three times between 1986 and 1995 and ran under the label of Liberal Democracy in the 2002 presidential elections.By Alain Madelin

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Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of Monday Note.Frédéric Filloux

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