Infectious disease experts say there is no evidence that the massive winter tide, which kills thousands of people a day in the United States, is linked to the UK variant or a domestic strain. But they acknowledge that their awareness on the battlefield is limited.
Some countries have minimal capacity to conduct genomic sequencing, which allows scientists to track random mutations that could give some advantage of the viral variant over other strains. Like any virus, this one mutates randomly and in circulation are countless variants.
The increase in the incidence of new infections in the United States has been so rapid in recent weeks that scientists cannot rule out the possibility of an undiscovered option accelerating its spread. Other factors may be behind the wave, including holiday gatherings and the lack of adherence in some communities to public health guidelines designed to limit transmission, such as social distancing and wearing masks.
Nearly 198,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 1,600 deaths were reported in the United States on Monday. The seven-day current average for daily deaths has exceeded 3,200. Nearly 375,000 people have died from the virus in the country since the start of the pandemic.
Indiana officials said the UK option has been identified in their state. More than 60 cases of the strain variant have been identified in nine states since it was first discovered two weeks ago in Colorado.
Indiana Health Commissioner Christina Box said in a statement Monday that viruses often mutate and that the best protection is to practice good hygiene and social distancing.
“Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it is more important than ever for Husseins to continue wearing their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they meet the conditions,” he said. Boxing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that its strain surveillance program and its partners are set to more than double the number of genomic sequences uploaded to public databases by the end of the week. in December. The CDC organizes virtual meetings with scientists and public health experts in an attempt to share information about variants of the virus in circulation.
“The general consensus is that there is no single option to manage the current cases in the United States. That said we need to be vigilant about these concerns, “said Duncan McCannell, chief scientific officer at the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, on Monday.
Other scientists share this view.
“We don’t see any evidence of a specific option that ‘avoids’ others,” Christian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute, said in an email. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but so far we haven’t seen evidence of it and we’re looking, it’s just not enough.”
William Hanaj, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Chan, said in an email that “the surveillance is such that we would not find such an option until it appears and is well established.”
MacCannell estimated that less than 0.5 percent of the current transmission in the United States includes a British version known as B.1.1.7. It has a set of 17 mutations, including eight that affect the spike protein on the surface of the virus. British scientists estimate that it may be approximately 50 percent more susceptible than the more common coronavirus, which itself contains a mutation that appears to have increased infectivity.
MacCannell said it expected B.1.1.7 to account for a larger share of cases in the coming weeks, but said the speed and scale of the occurrence was unpredictable.
The researchers emphasized that these mutations did not appear to alter the severity of covid-19, a disease caused by the virus. There is ample evidence to support the theory that this variant is more transmissible, but there is no evidence that it is more lethal. A study published in the UK found no statistically significant difference in hospitalization rates among people infected with the new variant, in contrast to the more common coronavirus strain.
But even if the option does not make individuals sick, its increased susceptibility can lead to more people being infected and thus increase mortality overall.
“Do the options out there avoid protecting the vaccine?” Yes or no? They are working on that at the moment, “Fautsi said, referring to scientists funded by his institute. “I need that answer and I need it very quickly.”
Another uncertainty is whether the monoclonal antibodies used as therapeutic treatment will be effective against viruses that contain changes in the portion of the protein spike directed by these antibodies.
The manufacturer of another drug used by some doctors to treat the coronavirus, remdezivir, said it was likely to be effective against strains, the company’s chief executive said on Monday.
Gilead Sciences is testing the drug on variants first found in the UK and South Africa to determine its effectiveness. Gilead has already found in laboratory tests that remdezivir maintains its effectiveness against 2,000 strains of coronavirus, said CEO Daniel O’Day.
“Remdezivir works at the source in the cell where the virus replicates, and what we do know is that in these new variants, that part of the cell doesn’t change at all,” O’Day said in an interview with CNBC on Monday. Box ”.
Hospitalized patients with covid-19 may receive remdezivir, which may shorten recovery time. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug last year with a permit for emergency use.
The virus will continue to mutate and develop through natural selection, a fact that did not surprise the scientific community, but gained new popularity among recent bulletins for problematic options.
“I think there is a high degree of concern,” Macanel said, referring to the views of the scientific community. “We do not fully know the functional consequences of these mutations. . . . I would suspect that many of the mutations we observe help to optimize the virus for greater transmission. “
The release of the vaccines, he said, “will be another set of pressure on the virus. This is one of the critical reasons why we need to launch and launch large-scale national monitoring. “
Andersen said the option with the United Kingdom and another originally identified in South Africa is likely to become dominant in the United States within months. “Our mitigation efforts are extremely insufficient to deal with them,” he warned.
This is a mystery to politicians. Few officials have an appetite for greater restrictions on business and personal mobility, even with options that pose a new challenge. But what happened in the United Kingdom – where much of the country is locked – is sobering.
There are more than 1 million new infections in the United States each week, and scientists from scattered universities and research institutions examine only a few thousand genomic sequences a week. The CDC contracts with academic and research institutions in an effort to achieve the goal of 6,500 weekly sequences.
“It’s a brand new virus. We learn as we walk. There are unknowns we have to admit, “said Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. “We all work on this around the clock.”
Fauci said it is extremely important to suppress the spread of the virus, given that a large number of infections leads to a greater chance of mutations.
“The race is to suppress the virus before it mutates to the point where it will actually cause you problems,” Fautsi said. “I’m not worried about these things, I’m just taking them very seriously.”