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Two research teams have identified a new coronavirus variant in New York City and across the Northeast that could evade natural immune responses and some monoclonal antibody treatments, according to CNN.
The variant, called B.1.526, has appeared in diverse neighborhoods in New York City and is “scattered in the Northeast,” the researchers said.
“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” researchers from Columbia University Medical Center wrote in a report, which is scheduled to publish as a preprint this week and was provided to CNN.
Earlier this week, the team released another preprint about the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, respectively, which also mentions the B.1.526 variant in the U.S. Neither report has been peer-reviewed.
Viruses mutate often, and several coronavirus variants have been identified and followed during the pandemic. Not all mutations are significant or are necessarily more contagious or dangerous. Researchers have been tracking the B.1.526 variant in the U.S. to find out if there are significant mutations that could be a cause for concern.
In the most recent preprints, the variant appears to have the same mutation found in B.1.351, called E484K, which may allow the virus to evade vaccines and the body’s natural immune response. The E484K mutation has shown up in at least 59 lines of the coronavirus, the research team said. That means the virus is evolving independently across the country and world, which could give the virus an advantage.
“A concern is that it might be beginning to overtake other strains, just like the U.K. and South African variants,” David Ho, MD, the lead study author and director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia, told CNN.
“However, we don’t have enough data to firm up this point now,” he said.
In a separate preprint posted Tuesday, a research team at the California Institute of Technology developed a software tool that noticed the rise of B.1.526 in the New York region. The preprint hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.
“It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote.
Both teams also reported on another variant, called B.1.427/B.1.429, which appears to be increasing in California. The variant could be more contagious and cause more severe disease, they said, but the research is still in the early stages.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco have tested virus samples from recent outbreaks in California and also found that the variant is becoming more common. The variant didn’t appear in samples from September but was in half of the samples by late January. It has a different pattern of mutations than other variants, and one called L452R may affect the spike protein on the virus and allow it attach to cells more easily.
“Our data shows that this is likely the key mutation that makes this variant more infectious,” Charles Chiu, MD, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF, told CNN.
The team also noticed that patients with a B.1.427/B.1.429 infection had more severe COVID-19 cases and needed more oxygen, CNN reported. The team plans to post a preprint this week once public health officials in San Francisco review the report.
Right now, the CDC provides public data for three variants: B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil. The U.S. has reported 1,881 B.1.1.7 cases across 45 states, 46 B.1.351 cases in 14 states, and five P.1 cases in four states, according to a CDC tally updated on Tuesday.
At the moment, lab officials aren’t able to tell patients or doctors whether someone has been infected by a variant, according to Kaiser Health News. High-level labs conduct genomic sequencing on samples and aren’t able to communicate information back to individual people.
But the Association of Public Health Laboratories and public health officials in several states are pushing for federal authorization of a test that could sequence the full genome and notify doctors. The test could be available in coming weeks, the news outlet reported.
CNN: “Researchers find worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City.”
BioRxiv: “Structural Basis for Accommodation of Emerging B.1.351 and B.1.1.7 Variants by Two Potent SARS-CoV-2 Neutralizing Antibodies,” “SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.526 emerging in the New York region detected by software utility created to query the spike mutational landscape.”
CDC: “U.S. COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants.”
Kaiser Health News: “Have a Case of a Covid Variant? No One Is Going to Tell You.”