A new variant of the coronavirus is suspected of being more easily transmissible and more likely to lead to serious illnesses and death. The journal “Science” reported on Tuesday, February 23, citing a new study by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The science magazine has a preprint of the study, which is still waiting to be examined by experts.
According to the study, the variant with the designation Cal.20C – or according to another nomenclature B.1.427 and B.1.429 – has so far mainly been present in the US state of California, where it was first discovered in October last year. The degree of their spread is worrying. Among the more than 2,100 virus samples examined from the region, their share grew from zero percent to more than 50 percent between September last year and the end of January 2021. Overall, she was responsible for 21.3 percent of the cases examined.
Cal.20C sufferers died eleven times more often than other variants
According to Science, the data suggest that the variant is more contagious. The scientists found twice as many viruses in the nose of patients infected with Cal.20C – an indication of higher virus excretion. The spread in a nursing home in the region was also many times faster than with comparable outbreaks of other variants.
Cal.20C would also have three mutations in the spike proteins of the virus, which stabilize the receptor bonds and thus make it easier for the virus to penetrate the cells. Vaccine efficacy could also be impaired with the variant: According to Science, it was only half as susceptible to antibodies from the blood of people who had been treated with the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
The scientists also looked at the patient records of 324 people who had been treated for Covid-19 in clinics or medical centers at the university. Their studies have shown that patients with Cal.20C had to be treated in an intensive care unit 4.8 times as often as patients with other variants – and more than eleven times more often died.
According to experts, more data is needed
According to “Science”, the results are statistically significant, but the absolute numbers were relatively small: eight of the 61 hospitalized patients with Cal.20C – i.e. 13 percent – were treated in an intensive care unit, seven of the 62 patients with the Californian variant died. According to Science, the authors of the study also admit that it cannot be ruled out that most patients with the California variant fell ill during the worst months of the pandemic in the state. In other words: You could possibly have received poorer medical care due to the overload of the health system.
Other corona experts such as David O’Connor, a virologist at the University of Wisonsin, or William Hanage, evolutionary biologist in the field of virology – both not involved in the study – warned in an interview with “Science” not to overestimate the study results . O’Connor told science magazine that more data was needed before definitive conclusions could be drawn.