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A new study of the coronavirus variant in the UK worries scientists

The variant of the coronavirus, which appeared in the United Kingdom, belongs to the world now and more and more evidence confirms the early suspicions of some scientists: It is a super spreader capable of turbocompressing the pandemic and muscle less transmission strains of the virus in oblivion.

Now that the new option has created a beach in the United States and more than 40 other countries, the race to control it continues. This competition confronts people armed with vaccines, masks and hand sanitizers against a virus strain with a handful of genetic changes, which raises fears from the moment they are discovered.

There is some good news: Researchers who have measured and modeled the strength of the British version have found no reason to believe that it makes people worse once it invades their bodies. Nor does it appear to reduce the time it takes for a newly infected person to spread the virus, a development that can generate fast-moving waves from new patients.

Other new research confirms that COVID-1

9 vaccines administered in the United States and elsewhere should protect against the new variant.

But other discoveries are more sinister. Using many different methods to track the variant in the United Kingdom and compare it to its predecessors, two groups of researchers concluded that the rapid growth of the new strain in the UK could not be ruled out as a coincidence.

And as fast as the new strain has spread to its homeland, it is ready to do even better here. Once established in the United States – promising experts believe inevitable – the failure will require public health measures tougher than those adopted so far, faster introduction of vaccines and significantly increased readiness for immunization.

“We’re losing the race against the coronavirus – it infects people much faster than we can get a vaccine in people’s hands, and it overcomes our social distancing,” said University of Florida biologist Derek Cummings, an expert on emerging pathogens. “Now there is this option that will make the race even more difficult.”

“We are losing the coronavirus race. … Now there is this option that will make the race even more difficult. ‘

Derek Cummings, Emerging Pathogen Expert, University of Florida

Genetic changes to the new variant appear to have increased its transmittance by about 56%, according to the new study, although it could be up to 40% and up to 70%.

With this competitive advantage, it will quickly become the most common strain in any region where it receives support. As it does so, coronavirus infections – and the growing diseases, hospitalizations and deaths that will lead to it – will explode.

“The bottom line is that it will be harder to control this new option if it takes the position,” said Ira Longhini, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Florida who is not involved in any of the British studies.

And he will take over, he added.

The superpower of the new version, as seen in the UK, is its ability to plow through public health fences and spread easily. It spread for at least a month and probably longer before being discovered by sharp-eyed (and well-funded) geneticists in the UK.

Travel bans were predictably useless for bottling. The variant, known to scientists as B.1.1.7, has so far appeared in 47 countries, including those as far away as Australia, Chile and Japan.

The port of Dover in England was closed in December

Dover’s port in England was closed in December after France issued a temporary travel ban from Britain to stop the spread of a new version of the coronavirus.

(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)

As early as 2009, disease hunters saw influenza virus strains with only a few new genetic tweaks to destroy existing strains within a year, Longhini said.

“I don’t see what would stop him,” he said. “It must spread across the planet.”

What does such improved portability mean? Imagine a group of people without masks, none of whom are immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If a single person carrying a typical strain came in and mixed for a few hours, two or three additional people would probably go home infected.

If the same partygoer was infected with B.1.1.7, the virus would find 3.5 to 4.3 new victims during the same event.

This difference may seem small, but as new generations become infected, its effect will be increased. In one month, a person with the British variant can generate 150 new infections – almost four times the 39 cases that would be caused by a person with an older strain of coronavirus.

In fact, the option with the United Kingdom is likely to meet a little more resistance in the United States. At this point in the pandemic, about 1 in 5 guests are already infected and have received some degree of immunity that could be helpful. In addition, there is likely to be some social distancing, the party can be held outside and many attendees wear masks.

Under these circumstances, someone with a typical SARS-CoV-2 strain is likely to find a person to infect; on a rare lucky night for the virus, two people would leave infected. At this rate, the pandemic is growing at a relatively high rate and after one month, a total of three people are infected.

B.1.1.7 changes this picture. A carrier from the same country will transmit the infection to 1.5 to two other victims. After a month, the initial case leads to 11 to 16 new infections.

In the competition between viral strains, this competitive advantage is important. The purpose of the virus is to find and invade new bodies. The option that manages to catch more of them and in turn infect even more bodies will overtake its competitors and establish its dominance.

In short, the more timid strains are completely pushed out of the landscape and the insolent newcomer calls out for the pandemic shots.

For example, experts warn that increased susceptibility to B.1.1.7 will increase the proportion of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and stop the pandemic.

To deny the virus enough new victims to keep the pandemic alive and growing, you need to bypass more of its carriers with non-infectious – in other words, vaccinated – people who will stand in its way and make it difficult to transmit. The better the virus is at infecting new victims, the more non-infectious people you need among the population to block its path to a new victim.

Even before the threat of B.1.1.7 was fully understood, US health officials summarized their estimates of how many Americans would need to be vaccinated to establish herd immunity here. Although their early assumptions were about 70% of the population, experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s chief infectious disease specialist, have increased their target to 85%.

Yet in a study completed in early December, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 71% of Americans will definitely or likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Other recent studies report that the proportion of willing Americans is just over half.

In the UK, the increased infectivity of the strain in the UK has been demonstrated by two groups of researchers using a variety of techniques.

The first group, an influential team of infectious disease modelers from Imperial College London, uses genetic sequencing techniques that allow them to imprint infections and track the progress of the virus through a population. They compared the growth of B.1.1.7 in three separate regions of England and found similar growth patterns in all of them.

For further confirmation, they tested hundreds of positive tests for coronavirus. In the elementary genetic screen, which is widely used to confirm infection, the strain in the United Kingdom triggers a signal signaling the presence of unique changes.

With this measure, the location and growth rate of the new genetic variant – and its constant ability to eliminate other strains aside – also allowed researchers to judge how more transmissible it is. And he told them that its rapid growth could not be explained by local conditions (such as a particularly vulnerable elderly population) or environmental circumstances (such as colder weather, which forces people to spend more time indoors) that favor the new variant over the existing viral strains.

Ambulances line up in front of the Royal Hospital in London

Ambulances are lined up in front of a hospital in London as the new coronavirus strain feeds the record-breaking influx of COVID-19.

(Dominic Lipinski / Associated Press)

The second group of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine uses many of the same techniques. They included outbreak data in mathematical models to show the similarity of the B.1.1.7 footprint in different regions and to examine the possible reasons for the sequence they observed.

They concluded that the rapid increase in infections in the UK should be fueled by one or more changes in the genetic code of the new variant, although they are not sure which made the difference.

This is a conclusion. But experts said it was good.

“If you give me some evidence from these studies, I’d say I’m not buying it completely,” said UC Irvine biostatician Vladimir Minin, who is not involved in any of the studies. “But the authors have provided a lot of evidence that even the most skeptical of us could not rule out. This is pretty solid evidence that this is indeed a faster spreading virus. “

“It’s pretty solid evidence that this is indeed a faster-spreading virus.”

Vladimir Minin, biostatic at UC Irvine

In a country that is already struggling to get people to wear masks, stay home and avoid gatherings, vaccines seem to be the only way out. The advent of B.1.1.7 makes it stronger than ever to prioritize the elderly and those most likely to become seriously ill or die from infection, said Dr. Mark Lipsic, director of the Center for Dynamics. of Communicable Diseases at Harvard. That way, even if Americans can’t stop the spread of a more challenging virus, vaccines could “discourage” its effects, he said.

But first, Cummings said, they need to be given time to work. And that will require more draconian public health efforts to prevent further deaths.

This is similar to the early days of the pandemic, when Americans were asked to sacrifice to “level the curve” to give hospitals time to supply ventilators, protective equipment and health workers. This time the curve that needs to be leveled is steeper.

Still, Cummings said, “we should not raise our hands and say that this is a lost cause. Every week we receive helps us. We have these public health tools at our disposal and we can all do something to slow down infections and give us more time to get vaccines. “

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