Researchers from Ohio State University have discovered two new COVID-19 virus strains, which they believe originated in the United States. One strain was found in a patient in Ohio and has a mutation that is similar to the UK strain. The second one was the dominant CCP virus strain in Columbus from late December to early January, earning the nickname “Columbus strain.” This specific variant contains three gene mutations that have not been seen together in other COVID-19 strains.
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution… We know this shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus,” study leader Dr. Dan Jones said in the statement. He’s the vice-chair of the division of molecular pathology at the Wexner Medical Center. It is not known how infectious the Columbus strain is. But, based on the speed it became the dominant strain in the area, Jones believes that it is highly contagious.
Both viruses have mutations on the spikes that enable them to attach more easily to human cells, similar to the UK strain. This supports the concern that the two U.S. strains will have an easier time passing from one person to another.
Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study, raised an important question: How effective will the coronavirus vaccines be against these new strains? He said that there is no data at present suggesting that the vaccines being distributed around the world will protect against these new strains. However, he cautioned against overreacting until sufficient data comes out.
It is normal for viruses to mutate over time
Two mutated versions, the South African and the UK variants, are already causing concerns worldwide. If the Columbus variant spreads rapidly across the United States, it will only increase pressure on the government and the healthcare system.
Scientists are studying three more strains as well. The first one is from Denmark, called the mink variant. It was first discovered in June of last year and has remained unthreatening. But the World Health Organization (WHO) considers it to be quite dangerous.
“The variant, referred to as the ‘Cluster 5’ variant by Danish authorities, had a combination of mutations not previously observed… [They could] result in reduced virus neutralization in humans, which could potentially decrease the extent and duration of immune protection following natural infection or vaccination,” the WHO said in a statement.
Japanese officials also recently confirmed a new variant. However, they are not sure if it originated in Japan since the virus was discovered in an airport. Its contagiousness is unknown.
The third mutation comes from Brazil. It was discovered in Japan by the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) among four Brazilian travelers who had arrived in the country. The NIID claimed that there is no proof that the Brazilian variant is more contagious.
However, Ravi Gupta, a microbiology professor from Cambridge University, said that the Brazilian strain has three mutations that are similar to the highly contagious South African version of the virus, causing concern. Brazil is the third most infected country in the world with over 8,300,000 cases of infection.