International health agencies don’t list it as a “variant of concern." It's not even a “variant of interest.” Still, as the the pandemic continues, scientists are keeping a close eye on mutations of the original coronavirus that might turn more dangerous.
The latest one garnering attention is the C.1.2 variant, following the release last week of a pre-print study – not yet peer-reviewed – that highlighted mutations seen in other variants of concern.
Researchers in South Africa flagged the variant for international agencies to monitor, but health experts say the C.1.2 variant poses no real threat right now – especially compared to the highly contagious delta variant.
“I wouldn’t lose any sleep over C.1.2 at this time,” said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic. “Delta is a real problem right now, so that’s much more concerning to me.”
The new strain was first detected in South Africa in May, according to the study. Authors say it evolved from the C.1 variant that dominated the country in the first wave of coronavirus cases.
Researchers found the C.1.2 variant in most of South Africa’s provinces and in seven other countries spanning Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.
The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said on Twitter Monday there have only been about 100 cases of sequenced C.1.2 reported in the entire world since May and confirmed the delta variant continues to dominate available sequences.
“At this time, C.1.2 does not appear to be (high) in circulation, but we need more sequencing to be conducted and share globally,” she said. “Monitoring and assessment of variants is ongoing and critically important to understand the evolution of this virus, in fighting COVID-19 and adapting strategies as needed.”
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Study authors detected various mutations to the spike protein in the C.1.2 variant, including mutations that were previously seen in the alpha, beta, gamma and lambda variants.
Most of the COVID-19 vaccines, and all the ones authorized in the U.S., use the spike protein to trigger the body’s immune system. The body creates antibodies that recognize the spike protein on the coronavirus should it ever enter the body and attack.
But even with as many mutations as it has, the variant doesn’t appear to be “going toe-to-toe with delta,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“The caveat is that delta spent a long time in India not really taking off, and then when it did, we were left catching its coattails,” he said.
A long list of mutations doesn’t dictate how the virus will behave in the wild, health experts say. Other variants – such as lambda and gamma – ravaged parts of South America but didn’t appear to make a dent in the U.S.
So, what would it take for a variant to rival the highly contagious delta variant?
“What it needs to do is cause more infections. It needs to be more transmissible,” Rhoads said. “But how does it do that? There’s tons of ways that it can accomplish that goal.”
It could evade immunity or replicate faster, he said. It could make people sicker and shed more of the virus, or it could cause more asymptomatic infections, making it more likely infected people would be around others and unwittingly spread it.
But for now, health experts say it’s unclear what will become of the C.1.2 variant as delta continues to ravage pockets of unvaccinated America.
“Given how advanced delta is already, (C.1.2) really has to be something special to be able to catch up to it and, at the moment, it’s not showing any signs of that,” Hanage said.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID C.1.2 variant first detected in South Africa: What experts know