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New ‘Deltacron’ Covid-19 Coronavirus Variant Is A Recombinant Of Delta And Omicron

As they say, some relationships were meant to be. With the Delta and the Omicron variants of the Covid-19 coronavirus circulating so widely for so long, the two versions of the virus didn’t need Tinder to find each other. And voilà, here’s what that unholy union seems to have produced: something that’s now been dubbed the “Deltacron” variant.

The Deltacron name first emerged in early January 2022. As Lisa Kim reported for Forbes back then, Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, and his team, indicated that they had discovered a new version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that combined characteristics of the Delta and Omicron variants. They had detected this version in samples taken from 25 patients with Covid-19 in Cyprus, 11 of whom were hospitalized at the time. They dubbed this new version the “Deltacron” variant, as a combination of the words “Delta” and “Omicron,” perhaps because the “Delta” variant had emerged earlier than the “Omicron” variant and “Omilta” may sound too much like “OMG.”

Fast forward a couple months and there is now “solid evidence for a Delta-Omicron recombinant virus,” based on findings shared by a team from the Institut Pasteur in France. That’s what GISAID said. GISAID stands for the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. Established in 2008, GISAID is a worldwide collaborative platform that allows scientists across the world to openly share genomic data for influenza viruses and Covid-19 coronaviruses.

The word “recombinant” is related to the word “recombining” and refers to a recombining of genetic material. When two different versions of the SARS-CoV-2 infect the same cell to then play “hide the spike,” so to speak, and reproduce, they can essentially swap genetic material. As a result, their “offspring” have some recombination of the “parents’” two sets of genetic material. This new “Deltacron” recombinant includes structures from both the Delta GK/AY.4 and Omicron GRA/BA.1 lineages.

As Jeremy Kamil, PhD, an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Shreveport, tweeted on March 8, this new recombinant has been circulating since early January 2022 and was found by the Institut Pasteur team in patients from several regions of France:

France hasn’t been the only country to see this virus “love child” of the Delta and Omicron variants. Similar “recombined” versions of the virus have also appeared in Denmark, which was the first country in the European Union to lift Covid-19 restrictions nationwide in early February, and the Netherlands:

Such recombinants can result when your answer to the question, “are you infected with the Delta of the Omicron variant,” happens to be “yes.” With both versions of the virus in your body and in your cells at the same time, a lot of swapping left and right can occur. There’s probably been a fair number of people infected with both the Delta and the Omicron variants simultaneously, since both have spread in relatively uncontrolled manners throughout the Europe and the U.S. in the latter half of 2021 through early 2022. Therefore, the emergence of such a recombinant should be no surprise, as Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, who’s the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) technical lead for the COVID-19 response, tweeted:

Whenever a new version of the virus emerges, the question is whether it’s more transmissible (i.e., spreads more easily) than previous versions. And whether it’s more likely to cause more severe Covid-19. OK, the two biggest questions are whether it’s more transmissible and more likely to cause more severe Covid-19. And whether is it’s more adept at evading existing immune protection from vaccination or previous nature infection. These are the three big questions. And whether it doesn’t respond as well to treatment with antibodies or antivirals. OK, maybe there are four big questions. Regardless, so far, there have been too few cases of Deltacron to answer any of these questions. It would take many more cases to establish any statistically significant trends.

Therefore, even though “Deltacron” may sound like a new Transformers character, its appearance should not be a cause for panic. Of course, the WHO will rarely say, “OK, folks, it’s time to panic now. We will be releasing guidelines on how specifically to panic and flap your aims in the air.” But the rarity of Deltacron cases so far is another reason why it isn’t yet cause for additional concern. Like reality TV stars, new variants will continue to come and go. Some may stick around and cause a ruckus while many others may quickly fade away and be replaced. For now, this “Deltacron” variant hasn’t risen the level of being either a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern.” It does, however, bear close watching and following.

The emergence of the “Deltacron” variant is yet another reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over until official public health organizations declare it over. And not politicians, TV personalities, or some dude on Facebook. A number of people in the U.S. seem to be acting as if the pandemic emergency has somehow already passed even though the U.S. has still had an average of 35,036 newly reported Covid-19 cases, 31,323 Covid-19-related hospitalizations, and 1,272 Covid-19-related deaths per day over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times.

All of this should make you wonder whether the recent lifting of Covid-19 precautions such as face mask requirements will be yet another example of premature relaxation. And as I’ve said before for Forbes, things that are premature could leave people surprised and disappointed and a potentially messy situation. Sure this “Deltacron” variant may or may out turn out to be somewhat of a nothingburger. Nevertheless, as long as the virus remains so widespread, so many people remain unvaccinated, and the SARS-CoV-2 keeps knocking spikes so frequently, chances are new variants of interest and concern will at some point emerge.


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