A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which cause Covid-19, has been detected in South Africa and many other countries. It has been identified as the potential variant of interest (VOI) that is assigned to the PANGO lineage C.1.2.
When was the variant identified?
Scientists from National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) in South Africa said the potential variant of interest, C.1.2, was first detected in the country in May this year.
What makes it more dangerous?
This could be more transmissible and evade protection provided by vaccines.
C.1.2 has since been found in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, England, New
Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland as of August 13, they said. According to the yet-to-be peer-reviewed study posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on August 24, C.1.2 has mutated substantially compared to C.1, one of the lineages which dominated the SARS-CoV-2 infections in the first wave in South Africa.
The new variant has more mutations than other variants of concern (VOCs) or variants of interest (VOIs) detected worldwide so far, the researchers said. They noted that the number of available sequences of C.1.2 may be an underrepresentation of the spread and frequency of the variant in South Africa and around the world.
According to the study, C.1.2 lineage has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year, which is about twice as fast as the current global mutation rate of the other variants.
Can it escape antibodies produced by vaccines?
The spike protein is used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to infect and enter human cells, and most vaccines target this region. The mutations N440K and Y449H, which have been associated with immune escape from certain antibodies, have also been noticed in C.1.2 sequences.
These mutations together with changes in other parts of the virus likely help the virus evade antibodies, and immune response, including in patients who have already developed antibodies for the Alpha or Beta variants.
How far has it already spread?
It has since been detected across the majority of the provinces in South Africa and in seven other countries spanning Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania, the researchers reported in the study that is yet to be peer-reviewed and is posted on pre-print server medRxiv.
C.1.2 is "associated with increased transmissibility and reduced neutralisation sensitivity,” wrote the NICD team.
As of August 20, 2021, 80 sequences that match the C.1.2 lineage have been listed on the open-access database GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data).
What are the symptoms?
New symptoms associated with the variant are yet to be confirmed by health experts. However, they have cautioned that some of the common symptoms of the variants could be runny nose, persistent cough, throat pain, body ache, loss of smell and taste, fever, muscle cramps, pink eyes, diarrhoea, etc.