Scientists in Cyprus have identified a new Covid-19 strain of Deltacron in 25 patients that combines elements from delta and omicron variants.
- Of the 25 cases of Delatcron, 11 were patients who had already been hospitalized with Covid
- Scientists say it is not yet known if the strain is contagious or more dangerous
- Experts warn a hybrid could be worse than Omicron
Scientists in Cyprus have identified a new strain of Covid, Deltacron, in 25 patients that combines delta and omicron variants.
The strain has a genetic structure similar to omicron with delta genomes, said Leonidos Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus.
His team has identified 25 cases of the hybrid type so far and it’s still too early to assess its impact, according to a Bloomberg report.
Scientists in Cyprus have identified a new strain of Covid, Deltacron, in 25 patients that combines delta and omicron variants. Pictured: The vaccination queue in Cyprus
Of those identified, 11 were in patients who had already been hospitalized with Covid and 14 were among the general public.
“We’ll see in the future if this strain is more pathogenic, more contagious, or if it wins,” Kostrikis said.
The scientists sent their results to GISAID, an international database that tracks viruses.
Covid infection usually involves only one mutated strain, but in extremely rare cases two can be infected at the same time.
If these also infect the same cell, they may be able to swap out the DNA and combine to produce a new version of the virus.
Last month, the president of Moderna warned of a mutant hybrid he feared could be worse than the one currently sweeping the world.
Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, warned of a new super variant in December
Dr. Paul Burton, chief medical officer of the vaccine manufacturer, cautioned that the high numbers of Delta and Omicron made the combination likely.
He told MPs on the Science and Technology Committee it was “certainly” possible that they could exchange genes and release a more dangerous species.
The researchers caution that these events, scientifically termed “recombination events,” are possible but require very specific conditions and coincidences with often uncontrollable events.
Only three strains of Covid created by viruses that exchange genes have previously been recorded, and the virus instead relies mostly on random mutations to make more variants.
A new variant was not triggered during the two months when the Delta strain was outperforming Alpha by this method.
In one case, a recombination event occurred in the UK when an alpha variant fused with B.1.177, which first appeared in Spain, in late January 2021.
It resulted in 44 cases before it eventually disappeared.
Scientists in California said they identified another type of recombination in February last year, with the Kent strain merging with the B.1.429 strain first spotted in the area.
This new strain also resulted in very few cases, and they quickly disappeared.
Covid relies mostly on random mutations to develop new variants.
This happens when the virus makes copies of itself and errors appear in its genes.
In most cases, these changes are harmless, but sometimes they can lead to an advantage such as being more transmissible or more able to evade vaccines.
The Omicron variant is thought to have manifested itself in a long-term infection in an immunocompromised person. This allowed the virus to mutate multiple times to train itself to be better at infecting humans and evade previous immunity.
How can viruses combine?
For a common type of virus to appear, one person must be infected with two strains of coronavirus — likely from two separate sources — at the same time, and then the viruses must collide with each other inside the body.
Once viruses enter the body, the way they spread is forcing human cells to produce more of them.
The coronavirus is made of genetic material called RNA, and to reproduce, it must force the body to read this RNA and make exact copies of it.
There are inevitable errors when this happens because it happens very quickly and often and the natural processes are imperfect.
If there are two viruses in the same place simultaneously, and they both reproduce by the same cells, there is a chance that their RNA genes will get mixed up, just as shuffling can happen if someone dropped two decks of cards at once and picked them all up.
Most places have prevalent types of the virus, so an infected person is unlikely to start with two.
And for healthy people, there will likely be a window of about two weeks before the body begins to develop immunity and successfully get rid of the first copy of the virus.
This risk period can be reduced to days for the majority of people who show symptoms of Covid – which takes an average of five days – and then stay home sick.
But massive, poorly controlled outbreaks like those in the UK and US during the winter greatly increase the risk of mixed events simply because the number of infections is higher.