[KIRKLAND, Wash.] – (MTN) A review of the genetic information shared on GISAID by researchers in Cyprus, who claimed to have discovered a new COVID strain created by the antigenic shift between the Delta and Omicron variants, appears to be inaccurate.
Multiple virologists and scientists have reviewed the shared data and universally agree that the “variant” is not an antigenic shift, by a chimera likely caused by testing patients who were co-infected with Delta and Omicron. The story was broken by Bloomberg on Saturday and picked up by multiple news outlets including CNBC and Forbes.
Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist with the Imperial College of London, explained in a Twitter thread that recombinations of tests samples are common and that this wasn’t caused by poor quality control in the lab or bad science.
Dr Leontios Kostrikis, the head of the University of Cyprus’ biotechnology and molecular virology lab, announced to reporters on Saturday his findings and shared them in the GISAID database. By Sunday both Bloomberg, who broke the story, and Dr Kostrikis were on the defensive insisting this was an antigenic shift.
In an e-mail, Dr Kostrikis wrote to Bloomberg that his findings “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”
A study published on Oct. 14 called Genome Recombination between Delta and Alpha Variants of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), explored recombination versus antigenic shift, and the need for due diligence before declaring a new variant has been identified. The study examined seven reports of the Alpha and Delta strain recombinations and found that when the lineages were traced, the combination of the two into a new and unique virus, antigenic shift, did not occur.
The study concluded, “we must intensively monitor and carefully inspect such marked genetic variations to ensure their proper characterization.”
The hype around “deltacron,” mirrors a similar scare around “flurona.” Headlines announced the findings of people co-infected with Influenza and COVID, which people misinterpreted as a new virus. Although Influenza and COVID are both viruses, the similarity ends there. Creating a new virus through an antigenic shift between the two would be like trying to breed a cougar with an elephant.
A meta-analysis published on Jun. 25, 2021, found almost one percent of confirmed COVID cases were among people co-infected with Influenza from December 2019 to September 2020.
Doctors and immunologists have explained that co-infection between multiple variants is possible, as is co-infection with Influenza or RSV. It is also possible for a coinfected person to spawn a new COVID variant if they were coinfected with two different strains at the same time. It appears in Cyprus, this isn’t the case.
Dr. Todd Wolynn, CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh and an expert on medical misinformation and disinformation, explained why the headlines move faster than the science. “Before social media there use to be a saying, if it bleeds, it leads,” he said.
“Now with social media, if it scares it’s shared.”
On Friday the New York Times reported there were more than 900,000 confirmed COVID cases reported in the United States, representing a single-day record that would not include weekend or holiday data. Despite continued reports of the Omicron variant being mild, the United States also reached an alarming milestone, setting a new hospitalization record – 138,051 with 17,000 new hospitalizations because or with COVID a day.
Officials believe new COVID cases will peak in King County during the next seven to ten days. The IHME forecasts new coronavirus cases will peak at 38,000 on Feb. 4 in Washington. On Saturday the Washington State Department of Health reported 10,000 residents have died of COVID since Feb. 29, 2020.
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