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- Scientists are monitoring a new coronavirus variant that has several concerning mutations.
- This variant, known as C.1.2, contains mutations found in certain variants of concern.
- C.1.2 evolved from C.1, one of the coronavirus variants that dominated South Africa’s first COVID-19 wave.
Genetics researchers are monitoring a new coronavirus variant that has appeared in South Africa and several other countries.
This variant, known as C.1.2, contains mutations found in certain variants of concern, including Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma.
These mutations have made other variants more transmissible and given them the ability to evade the body’s immune protection somewhat.
However, researchers don’t know yet whether this combination of mutations will make C.1.2 more dangerous. They continue to monitor this variant.
Variant contains several concerning mutations
C.1.2 evolved from C.1, one of the coronavirus variants that dominated South Africa’s first COVID-19 wave.
This offshoot, C.1.2, has yet to be designated a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern.”
But C.1.2 caught the eyes of a team of South African researchers because it contains several mutations found in certain variants of concern and variants of interest.
This includes changes within the coronavirus spike protein that have made other variants more transmissible or less susceptible to neutralization by antibodies.
Other mutations seen in C.1.2 may help the variant overcome the immune protection offered by vaccination or natural infection, or give it an advantage over fast-spreading variants such as Delta.
However, “It’s not a foregone conclusion that these mutations in combination are a recipe for disaster. Some mutations are better for the virus in the real world than others,” Angela Rasmussen, PhD, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, wrote on Twitter.
More data is needed to understand whether this combination of mutations gives C.1.2 some advantage.
Scientists are working to collect that information, including looking at whether C.1.2 can overcome immune protection.
“We are currently assessing the impact of this variant on antibody neutralization following SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa,” the South African researchers wrote in a report posted online as a preprint.
Researchers continue to monitor variant’s spread
Currently, very few people have been diagnosed with a SARS-CoV-2 infection caused by the C.1.2 variant.
As of last week, 114 cases of C.1.2 have been identified in South Africa, with single cases in four other African countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Low numbers of cases have also appeared in countries in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific.
The earliest reports of this variant are from May in South Africa.
“At this time, C.1.2 does not appear to be [increasing] in circulation, but we need more sequencing to be conducted and shared globally,” Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead for WHO, said.
In a White House briefing last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said no C.1.2. cases had yet been reported in the United States due to the dominance of the Delta variant.
“As always, we will continue to closely monitor these and other emerging variants. But the most important thing we can do to protect against any variant, be it Delta, Mu, or C.1.2, is to get vaccinated, which has always been our predominant message,” he said.
Rasmussen says it remains to be seen whether C.1.2 will become a problem.
“[This variant is] something to watch and characterize, but not something to scream about,” she wrote on Twitter. “We don’t know how it will impact vaccines or whether it will become dominant. We should remain vigilant.”
Some variants, such as Alpha and Delta, have spread widely in many countries. While others, such as Beta, have had more limited transmission.
The dominance of the Beta variant in South Africa, where the variant was first identified in late 2020, was challenged when fast-spreading Delta came on the scene.
Currently, the Delta variant remains the dominant variant in the United States, accounting for over 98 percent of new SARS-CoV-2 infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).