Researchers find worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City

Two separate teams of researchers said this week they have found a worrying new...

Posted: Feb 25, 2021 8:58 AM

Two separate teams of researchers said this week they have found a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast that carries mutations that help it evade the body's natural immune response -- as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments.

Genomics researchers have named the variant B.1.526. It appears in people affected in diverse neighborhoods of New York City, they said, and is "scattered in the Northeast."

One of the mutations in this variant is the same concerning change found in the variant first seen in South Africa and known as B.1.351. It appears to evade, somewhat, the body's response to vaccines, as well. And it's becoming more common.

"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," one team, at Columbia University Medical Center, write in a report that has yet to be published, although it is scheduled to appear in pre-print version this week.

It's the latest of a growing number of viral variants that have arisen in the US, which has had more coronavirus cases -- 28 million -- than any other country and where spread is still intense.

It's "home grown, presumably in New York," Dr. David Ho, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia, who led the study team, said by email.

Viruses mutate all the time. The more people who are infected, and the longer they are infected, the more chance the viruses have to change. A patient's body will be loaded with billions of copies of a virus, and may will be slightly changed, or mutated. Most will come and go.

But sometimes a mutation or pattern of mutations takes hold and gets passed along. If viruses with such patterns become more common, they're called variants. Again, it's not unusual for variants to arise but if they give the virus worrying properties, such as better transmissibility or the ability to evade treatments and vaccines, that's when doctors start to worry.

The mutation in this variant that most concerns researchers is called E484K and it gives the virus the ability to slip past some of the body's immune response, as well as the authorized monoclonal antibody treatments. This mutation is popping up independently in many different cases but appears in one particular variant, as well -- the one called B.1.526.

"It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks," the Columbia team wrote in a copy of their report provided to CNN.

"We find the rate of detection of this new variant is going up over the past few weeks. A concern is that it might be beginning to overtake other strains, just like the UK and South African variants," Ho told CNN.

"However, we don't have enough data to firm up this point now."

But the E484K mutation is seen in at least 59 different lineages of coronavirus, they said -- which means it is evolving independently across the nation and across the world in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. It may give the virus an advantage.

"Everything we know about this key mutation suggests that it appears to escape from antibody pressure," Ho said.

Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology said they developed a software tool that also spotted the rise of B.1.526 in New York. "It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York," they wrote in a pre-print -- a report that has not been peer-reviewed but has been posted online.

On Tuesday, two teams reported on another variant that appears to be on the rise in California.

They fear that the variant might not only be more contagious, but may cause more severe disease, as well. As with the New York reports, their research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer reviewed, and needs more work.

A team at the University of California, San Francisco, tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across California and found it was becoming far more common. It wasn't seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half the samples.

This variant, which the team calls B.1.427/B.1.429, has a different pattern of mutations than the variants first seen in the UK, called B.1.1.7 or B.1.351. One mutation, called L452R, affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the bit that attaches to cells the virus infects.

"One specific mutation, the L452R mutation, in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein may enable the virus to dock more efficiently to cells. Our data shows that this is likely the key mutation that makes this variant more infectious," Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF, who led one of the studies, told CNN.

And they found some evidence it is more dangerous. "In this study, we observed increased severity of disease associated with B.1.427/B.1.429 infection, including increased risk of high oxygen requirement," they wrote in their report, which is to post to a pre-print server later this week after public health officials in San Francisco review it.

Chiu said it should be designated a variant of concern and should be made a priority for study.

A second team at Unidos en Salud, a San Francisco-based nonprofit offering fast testing in San Francisco's Mission District, tested 8,846 people over the month of January and sequenced the virus from 630 of the samples. They also found a rapid increase in the variant.

"The research findings indicate that the L452R variant represents 53% of the positive test samples collected between January 10th and the 27th. That is a significant increase from November when our sequencing indicated that this variant comprised only 16% of the positive tests," Dr. Diane Havlir, an infectious diseases expert at UCSF who is helping lead the study, said in a statement.

Havlir's team is also preparing findings for publication.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844594

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1160612006
Mobile741651379
Madison53255732
Shelby38313368
Baldwin38061589
Tuscaloosa35996641
Montgomery34473781
Lee25541263
Calhoun22582518
Morgan22441406
Etowah20009517
Marshall18771316
Houston17723425
St. Clair16863358
Limestone16123218
Cullman16032303
Elmore15902294
Lauderdale14945306
Talladega14186299
DeKalb12957269
Walker12011380
Blount10700192
Autauga10512157
Jackson10151194
Coffee9412192
Colbert9325208
Dale9013191
Tallapoosa7248201
Russell707465
Chilton7015170
Escambia6951143
Covington6926195
Franklin6337108
Chambers5778142
Marion5400130
Dallas5283209
Pike5114109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4777110
Geneva4640136
Bibb434094
Barbour369180
Butler3433100
Marengo342393
Monroe336666
Randolph334067
Pickens333188
Fayette329885
Henry320566
Hale317989
Cherokee316963
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254360
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184647
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139041
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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