Scientists Fear New COVID Strains Are Deadly—Just Like 2020 Wave

Authors: David Axe Fri, October 28, 2022

The new COVID-19 subvariants that are becoming dominant all over the world aren’t just more contagious than previous variants and subvariants—they might cause more severe disease, too.

That’s an ominous sign if, as experts predict, there’s a new global wave of COVID in the coming months. It’s one thing to weather a surge in infections that mostly results in mild disease. Cases go up but hospitalizations and deaths don’t. But a surge in serious disease could lead to a surge in hospitalizations and deaths, too.

It could be like 2020 or 2021, all over again. The big difference is that we now have easy access to safe and effective vaccines. And the vaccines still work, even against the new subvariants.

A new study from The Ohio State University is the first red flag. A team led by Shan-Lu Liu, co-director of HSU’s Viruses and Emerging Pathogens Program, modeled new SARS-CoV-2 subvariants including BQ.1 and its close cousin, BQ.1.1.

The team confirmed what we already knew: BQ.1 and other new subvariants, most of them the offspring of the BA.4 and BA.5 forms of the Omicron variant, are highly contagious. And the same mutations that make them so transmissible also make them unrecognizable to the antibodies produced by monoclonal therapies, rendering those therapies useless.

That should be reason enough to pay close attention as BQ.1 and its cousins outcompete BA.4 and BA.5 and become dominant in more countries and states. But then Liu and his teammates also checked the subvariants’ “fusogenicity.” That is, how well they fuse to our own cells. “Fusion between viral and cellular membrane is an important step of viral entry,” Liu told The Daily Beast.

In general, the greater the fusogenicity, the more severe the disease. Liu and his colleagues “observed increased cell-cell fusion in several new Omicron subvariants compared to their respective parental subvariants,” they wrote in their study, which appeared online on Oct. 20 and is still under peer review at New England Journal of Medicine.

This Could Be the Only Way to Beat COVID for Good

If these new subvariants are indeed more transmissible and more severe, they could reverse an important trend as the COVID pandemic grinds toward its fourth year. The trend, so far, has for each successive major variant or subvariant to be more contagious but cause less severe disease.

That trend, combined with widespread vaccination and new therapies, led to what scientists call a “decoupling” of infections and deaths. COVID cases occasionally spike as some new, highly-contagious new variant or subvariant becomes dominant. But because these new forms of SARS-CoV-2 cause less severe disease, deaths don’t increase nearly as much.

That decoupling, along with the availability of vaccines and therapies, has allowed most people all over the world to get back to some kind of normal in the past year or so. If BQ.1 or another highly fusogenic subvariant re-couples infections and deaths, that new normal could become a new nightmare. “More hospitalizations and deaths,” is how Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute for Health who was not involved in the OSU study, summed it up.

It’s possible we’ve already seen the first recoupling. Since the new subvariants began seriously competing for dominance in recent months, epidemiologists watched COVID statistics carefully in order to spot any real-world impacts.

Singapore was a false flag. The tiny Asian city-state had a quick, up-and-down surge in cases this month that some experts initially worried might involve a dangerous new subvariant. But the country’s health ministry sequenced a lot of viral samples, fast, and determined that BA.5 was the culprit. Singapore’s high rate of vaccination and boosting—92 percent of residents have their prime jabs and 80 percent are boosted—tamped down the BA.5 surge without a major spike in deaths.

But then there’s Germany, where cases also surged this month. German authorities haven’t yet determined which variant or subvariant is to blame, but it’s worth noting that BQ.1 is spreading fast all over Europe.

And there are signs of recoupling in Germany. In October, the country registered as many as 175,000 new cases a day—matching the peak of the previous wave back in July. But 160 Germans died every day on average in the worst week of the current surge, whereas just 125 died per day in the worst week of the summer surge. “We could see the same patterns in other European countries… and in the U.S.,” Mokdad said.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the latest COVID subvariants. And their real-world impact won’t come into focus until we get good data out of Germany. “Close monitoring of new variants and studying their properties are critical,” Liu said.

But one thing is clear. For all their transmissibility and fusogenicity, the new subvariants haven’t significantly escaped the immune effects of the leading vaccines. And the latest “bivalent” boosters, formulated specifically for BA.4 and BA.5, should maintain the vaccines’ effectiveness as long as the dominant subvariants are closely related to Omicron.

Get vaccinated and stay current on your boosters. It’s impossible to stress this too much. Yes, BQ.1 and its cousins exhibit some alarming qualities that could bend the arc of the pandemic back toward widespread death and disruption.

But only if you’re unvaccinated or way behind on your boosters.

New COVID variant detected in South Africa, most mutated variant so far

The C.1.2 variant first detected in South Africa is more mutated compared to the original virus than any other known variant.

Authors: By TZVI JOFFRE   AUGUST 29, 2021 14:47

A new coronavirus variant, C.1.2, has been detected in South Africa and a number of other countries, with concerns that it could be more infectious and evade vaccines, according to a new preprint study by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform. The study is awaiting peer review. Scientists first detected C.1.2 in May 2021, finding that it was descended from C.1, which scientists found surprising as C.1 had last been detected in January. The new variant has “mutated substantially” compared to C.1 and is more mutations away from the original virus detected in Wuhan than any other Variant of Concern (VOC) or Variant of Interest (VOI) detected so far worldwide. While first detected in South Africa, C.1.2 has since been found in England, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland. The scientists believe that the number of available sequences of C.1.2 may be an underrepresentation of the spread and frequency of the variant in South Africa and around the world. The study found consistent increases in the number of C.1.2 genomes in South Africa on a monthly basis, rising from 0.2% of genomes sequenced in May to 1.6% in June and then to 2% in July, similar to the increases seen with the Beta and Delta variants there. The study also found that the C.1.2 lineage has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year, which is nearly twice as fast as the current global mutation rate of the other variants. The scientists stated that this short period of increased evolution was also seen with the Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants, suggesting that a single event, followed by a spike in cases, drove faster mutation rates. More than half of the C.1.2 sequences have 14 mutations, but additional mutations have been noticed in some of the sequences, suggesting that evolution within the lineage is ongoing, according to the study. More than half (about 52%) of the mutations in the spike region of the C.1.2 sequences have previously been seen in other VOCs and VOIs. The mutations N440K and Y449H, which have been associated with escape from certain antibodies, have also been noticed in C.1.2 sequences. The scientists stressed that the combination of these mutations, as well as changes in other parts of the virus, likely help the virus evade antibodies and immune responses, including in patients who have already been infected with the Alpha or Beta variants. The scientists added that further work is required to understand the exact impact of these mutations and to see if they give the variant a competitive advantage over the Delta variant. The study comes as a doctor in Turkey reported indications that a new coronavirus variant had been detected in the country, with tests detecting mutations that weren’t found in the current variants named by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. Lütfi Çamlı told Turkish media that while tests were conducted to detect the presence of variants around Turkey, doctors found a new variant with no connection to the other variants, reaching a rate of about 50%-60% of cases in the northern province of Rize. Çamlı stressed, however, that it is still unclear whether they have actually found a new variant or if it was just the result of false negativity in PCR tests. The doctor additionally stressed that it is normal for new mutations to emerge in an epidemic and that the mutations recently found in Turkey may not have any serious effect on how the virus functions. Çamlı called for further research and for the results of genomic tests of the samples carried out in Ankara to be released to the public. As of last Wednesday, the WHO had identified four VOCs and four VOIs. As of last Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) had identified five and six respectively. A number of other variants have been designated for further monitoring.

“One Step Closer To Dictatorship”: Joe Rogan Slams Vaccine Passports, Warns Vax May Cause ‘Virulent Mutations’

Rogan – who acknowledge thathe’s not a doctor or an anti-vaxx person, says that concerned doctors have been anonymously sending him studies – including one which asserts that an imperfect vaccine can lead to ‘highly virulent pathogens,’ and that ‘vaccines that keep the host alive but still allow transmission can thus allow virulent strains to circulate in a population.’

“The very sort of environment that we’re creating by having so many people vaccinated with a vaccine that doesn’t kill off the virus, it actually can lead to a more potent virus. Try finding that story anywhere,” said Rogan, who was referring to a peer-reviewed paper published in 2015, in which its authors – from Penn State and the Pirbright Institute concluded that “anti-disease vaccines that do not prevent transmission can create conditions that promote the emergence of pathogen strains that cause more severe disease in unvaccinated hosts.

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I treat pediatric COVID patients. What I’m seeing in our hospital scares me.

There is this popular notion that covid doesn’t affect children – and my public health and epidemiologic training reminds me that on a population-level, it’s true, the majority of children who contract covid-19 will be asymptomatic or have mild disease. But I contrast this with the reality of being a clinician at the bedside of children critically ill from covid and covid-related illnesses. These two perspectives battle in my brain as I make risk assessments for my own school-aged child. One thing that terrifies me as a parent is that we can’t predict why some children get so incredibly sick from covid while others have mild disease; we don’t know why some go on to have lingering debilitation and symptoms for months, and others make quick recoveries.

What I do know is that in this moment, as the highly contagious delta variant becomes the predominant strain circulating and we enter another covid surge, I am more worried for children than I have ever been.

First and foremost, this is because the high transmissibility of the delta variant will translate into a greater number of children being exposed than before, which will lead to a greater number of children infected. Even if the delta variant is no more virulent in children than the original virus was, the sheer numbers will translate into more children being admitted to the hospital with covid and covid-related illnesses. As school reopenings coincide with the growth of the delta variant, I worry we will see large outbreaks in school settings that we didn’t see with less-contagious versions of the virus.

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