New mutant from South Africa -What we know about the virus variant C.1.2

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Another corona virus variant with a particularly large number of mutations is spreading from South Africa. C.1.2 could be a “very nasty variant,” a virologist says.

Alpha, beta, gamma and delta – these are the variants of the coronavirus that dominate infection events in our country and also the news coverage. But there are many more variants – currently 1,570 – with different mutations, and with each new infection there is a chance that the coronavirus will continue to change or adapt.

One relatively new variant that is keeping scientists busy is C.1.2, which originated in South Africa. It was first detected in May 2021 and has spread rapidly to all parts of South Africa.

How widespread is C.1.2?
Most infections with the C.1.2 virus variant – about 85 percent – have been detected in South Africa: there, the virus now accounts for about two percent of all corona infections. It is therefore currently not yet widespread. Other cases have so far occurred in Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Botswana, China and New Zealand. In Europe, the variant has so far been detected in Portugal, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In all these countries, however, the proportion of infections has so far been less than one percent. The spread of the different Corona variants is monitored by various scientific institutes worldwide, which share and evaluate the data they collect. In Germany, the RKI has not yet registered any cases.

What’s special about the new Corona variant?
What is special about C.1.2 is that the variant has a particularly large number of mutations, many of them at the spike protein, which is important for infection. The mutation rate, i.e. the frequency with which a mutation occurs spontaneously or is generated, is 41.8 mutations per year, twice as high as in the previously known variants.

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Monday that the C.1.2 variant includes some mutations known to be present in other variants of interest (VOI) or variants of concern (VOC). These include mutations that lead to higher transmissibility and those that attempt to circumvent immune protection of recovered and vaccinated individuals. Some mutations, however, are completely new.

Frankfurt virologist Martin Stürmer explained that the assessment of the new variant is still very preliminary and is based on comparisons with other variants using the detected mutations. Not every variant that spreads in a region is capable of displacing the currently dominant delta variant, says Stürmer.

Are vaccines effective against the C.1.2 variant?
This question is currently difficult to answer, as there are still too few cases to investigate and more data still need to be collected. The scientists from South Africa consider an “immune escape”, i.e. the possibility of the virus infecting a human despite immune protection, to be possible. However, they explicitly point out that vaccination nevertheless offers a high level of protection in the event of infection and greatly reduces the risk of a severe course or death from Covid-19.

How can such mutations be prevented?
Such mutations can only be prevented if there are as few new infections as possible, since each transmission of the coronavirus can produce a new mutant.

A high vaccination rate can also reduce the mutation rate of coronavirus, according to a study by researchers at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore, USA. However, this study has yet to be verified by other scientists.

South Africa is the country most severely affected by the Corona pandemic on the African continent. More than 2.7 million Corona infection cases have been recorded in the country since the pandemic began. At least 81,830 people died in connection with Covid-19.

Which new variants are currently still being observed?
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday classified another Corona variant as a “variant of interest.” Also known as “Mu,” variant B.1.621 exhibits mutations that could indicate possible resistance to vaccines, the organization said. This variant of the coronavirus first appeared in Colombia in January.

— hp with reports from news agencies/picture: rtl.de

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