The Californian variant of Covid is the devil of them all
Scientists labelled the strain as “the devil” after their alarming discoveries.
The variant is called B.1.427/B.1.429 and was first spotted in California this winter.
It hasn’t been detected in the UK but has been found in Australia, Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan.
As with any new variant, it contains new mutations which scientists were aware could give it an edge over the “original” strain of the virus.
They have been studying it closely with the first findings – which are not published in a peer-reviewed journal – causing concern.
Researchers analysed 2,172 virus samples collected in California between September 2020 and January 2021.
During this time, the variant had surged to become the more dominant strain, with cases caused by it doubling every 18 days, the New York Times reported.
The paper said lab studies found that the variant was “at least 40 per cent more effective at infecting human cells” compared with earlier strains.
This is likely based on lab experiments that look at how the coronavirus latches on to human cells.
As well as this, the swabs of people who tested positive for the strain had twice the level of viral particles – otherwise known as viral load – in their throat or nose.
Together, these findings suggest that the Californian strain has the ability to spread between people easier.
Study lead author Dr Charles Chiu, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the LA Times: “The devil is already here.
“I wish it were different. But the science is the science.”
Dr Chiu and his team also analysed 300 cases of B.1.427/B.1.429 to see if more people died with this strain compared to others.
They found the risk of death was higher.
But because the study sample was so small – looking at only 12 fatalities – the evidence is not strong.
Laboratory studies also found that antibodies in the blood of people who had been previously infected with Covid or vaccinated did not work as well to kill the Californian coronavirus strain.
This could mean the variant is potentially able to evade vaccines, or make their efficacy weaker, although Dr Chiu said it’s not clear yet if this is the case.
Vaccines were made against older strains of the virus.
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