Things are not good in California: the novel coronavirus variant, discovered here, is spreading at an accelerating rate.
According to the new preprint study, published by the University of California, San Francisco, the virus is more contagious: On September 1, 2020, the mutated virus accounted for nearly 0% of all infected people in California;
By January 29, 2021, the mutation will account for 50 percent of new cases in California.
Laboratory studies and epidemiological data show that the newly discovered pandemic novel coronavirus variant is not only more transmissible, but also appears to be more virulent, according to a report in Science on Feb. 23.
Infected patients have a higher risk of being admitted to intensive care units and dying.
‘The novel coronavirus variant is worrisome,’ said Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘The data suggest that it is more infectious, more likely to cause severe symptoms, and works against partially neutralizing antibodies.’
Qiu Huayan said the variant needs to be tracked urgently.
The study has not been peer-reviewed.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Sciences and Security, told Science that a closer look at the mutant novel coronavirus is needed.
But other virologists say more data are needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
David O’Connor, a virus sequencing expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said fewer than 10 patients were admitted to the ICU in the study, and fewer than 10 died.
If he is a reviewer, he hopes to get more data from more infected people to confirm this bold hypothesis.
In the UCSF study, they collected viral samples from patients in 44 counties in California from September 1, 2020 to January 29, 2021, and sequenced 2,172 viral genomes.
The newly discovered variant comes in two forms, labeled B.1.427 and B.1.429, which are slightly different.
The researchers also obtained the medical records of 324 patients with new crowns at the University of California, San Francisco’s medical center and clinics.
When the researchers adjusted the data for differences in age, sex and race, they found that patients with the new crown variant were 4.8 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and 11 times more likely to die than those with the other new crown variant.
Other data suggested that the variant was more contagious.
The researchers found that patients infected with the mutant virus carried about twice as much virus in their noses as those infected with other novel coronavirus, an indicator of virus shedding, meaning it was more infectious in people.
In the laboratory, viruses engineered to carry the key mutations found in the variant were more efficient at infecting human cells and organs like the lungs.
In one nursing home where variants of the virus were prevalent, the virus spread several times faster than in four other nursing home outbreaks caused by other novel coronavirus.
William Hanage, an expert on virus evolution at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Science that there is growing evidence that the new crown variant found in California is more easily transmitted than other variants.
In laboratory studies, B.1.429 also affected the neutralization efficiency of neutralizing antibodies.
Neutralizing antibodies taken from the blood of people who recovered from the new coronavirus were four times less potent than the original coronavirus when confronted with the new coronavirus mutation found in California.
Neutralizing antibodies in people who received Pfizer or Moderna’s mRNA vaccine were twice as effective when they encountered the new coronavirus mutation found in California.
The reduction was significant, the researchers said.
Robert Schooley, an infectious disease and virologist at the University of California, San Diego, praised the UCSF study, particularly for the high viral load in the noses of infected people.
He says this is consistent with his clinical observation that covid patients here in Southern California spend more time in the intensive care unit.
However, the lack of large numbers of cases is a flaw in the study.
This makes it statistically necessary to further expand the sample size.