Researchers in Ohio said Wednesday that they discovered two new variants of the coronavirus that likely originated in the United States – one of which quickly became the dominant strain in Columbus, Ohio over a three-week period in late December and early January.
Like the strain first detected in the UK, the US mutations appear to make Covid-19 more contagious, but they don’t appear to affect the vaccines’ effectiveness, the researchers said.
Ohio State University researchers have not yet released their full results, but they say an unverified study is in the pipeline. Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement to CNBC that the agency is considering the new research.
One of the new strains, found in just one patient in Ohio, contains a mutation identical to the now dominant variant in the UK. Researchers concluded that it “likely appeared in a strain of the virus that is already present in the US”. However, the “Columbus strain,” which researchers said in a press release had become dominant in the city, includes “three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.”
“This new strain of Columbus shares the same genetic backbone as previous cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said Dr. Dan Jones, vice chairman of the division of molecular pathology at Ohio State and lead author on the study, said in a statement. “We know that shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus.”
Researchers at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio, United States, have been sequencing the virus since March, but have drastically stepped up their efforts to sequence hundreds of samples a week, Jones told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. He added that he had sent his team’s results to the Ohio Department of Health, but not yet to the CDC.
“We are now in a phase where the virus is changing significantly,” said Jones. “This is the moment when changes are gradually emerging, in which vaccination is introduced and in which the virus has been present in the human population for several months, and when we want to pay very careful attention to the emergence of not only the virus single mutations, but new strains with multiple mutations. “
Jones added that it’s too early to determine how much more contagious the tribe in Columbus could be, but researchers believe it’s likely more contagious just because it has spread rapidly in the past few weeks.
Peter Mohler, chief scientist at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio, United States and co-author of the upcoming study, said there was no data to suggest that any of the new strains would affect vaccine effectiveness.
“It is important that we do not overreact to this new variant until we receive additional data,” he said in a statement. “We need to understand the effects of mutations on the transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population, and the effects on human health.
Mohler said the discovery of the new strains is evidence of the lab’s efforts to speed up genetic sequencing, as the virus appears to be mutating more rapidly in recent months. He added that they hope to release data in the coming weeks and that they are investigating whether Covid-19 molecular tests accurately diagnose the new variants.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned states earlier this month that a “US variant” may be floating around. The hypothesis reported by the New York Times was supported by Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, erected. It was based on how severe the US outbreak has become in recent months. The CDC said in a statement last week that it has not yet discovered a new variant in the United States that has nothing to do with previously discovered strains.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, said it was difficult to gauge the meaning of the results without seeing the data.
Researchers have warned that as the virus spreads around the world, it has more opportunities to develop, potentially becoming more contagious, or making treatments and vaccines less effective. After discovering new strains in the UK and South Africa, the CDC stepped up efforts to track the genetic sequence of the virus in the US
Dr. Greg Armstrong, director of the CDC’s advanced molecular detection office, said last month the agency is signing contracts with academic centers across the country to sequence samples and look for new variants locally. These centers are located in Boston, New Haven, Connecticut, Athens, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, Madison, Wisconsin, and at the Scripps Institute in San Diego.
He added that many academic centers across the country have the ability and expertise to sequence samples of the virus and are stepping up their efforts to do so.