Thursday August 11th, 2022 1:55AM

Dominant coronavirus mutant contains ghost of pandemic past

By The Associated Press

The coronavirus mutant that is now dominant in the United States is a member of the omicron family but scientists say it spreads faster than its omicron predecessors, is adept at escaping immunity and might possibly cause more serious disease.

Why? Because it combines properties of both omicron and delta, the nation's dominant variant in the middle of last year.

A genetic trait that harkens back to the pandemic's past, known as a “delta mutation," appears to allow the virus "to escape pre-existing immunity from vaccination and prior infection, especially if you were infected in the omicron wave," said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas. That's because the original omicron strain that swept the world didn’t have the mutation.

The omicron “subvariant” gaining ground in the U.S. — known as BA.2.12.1 and responsible for 58% of U.S. COVID-19 cases last week — isn't the only one affected by the delta mutation. The genetic change is also present in the omicron relatives that together dominate in South Africa, known as BA.4 and BA.5. Those have exactly the same mutation as delta, while BA.2.12.1 has one that's nearly identical.

This genetic change is bad news for people who caught the original omicron and thought that made them unlikely to get COVID-19 again soon. Although most people don't know for sure which variant caused their illness, the original omicron caused a giant wave of cases late last year and early this year.

Long said lab data suggests a prior infection with the original omicron is not very protective against reinfection with the new mutants, though the true risk of being reinfected no matter the variant is unique to every person and situation.

In a twist, however, those sickened by delta previously may have some extra armor to ward off the new mutants. A study released before it was reviewed by other scientists, by researchers at Ohio State University, found that COVID patients in intensive care with delta infections induced antibodies that were better at neutralizing the new mutants than patients who caught the original omicron.

“The omicron infection antibody does not appear to protect well against the subvariants compared to delta,” said Dr. Shan-Lu Liu, a study author who co-directs the viruses and emerging pathogens program at Ohio State.

But Liu said the level of protection a delta infection provides depends partly on how long ago someone was ill. That's because immunity wanes over time.

People who got sick with delta shouldn’t think of themselves as invulnerable to the new subvariants, especially if they’re unvaccinated, Long said. “I wouldn’t say anyone is safe."

One bright spot? Booster shots can provide strong protection against the new mutants, Liu said. In general, vaccines and prior infection can protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID-19. At this point, scientists say, it's too early to know if the new mutant gaining ground in the U.S. will cause a significant uptick in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how virulent these new mutants are. Long said he hasn’t seen anything that answers that question for him, but Liu said emerging data points toward more serious illness. Liu said the subvariants have properties suggesting they spread more efficiently cell-to-cell.

The virus "just hides in the cell and spreads through cell-to-cell contact,” Liu said. “That's more scary because the virus does not come out for the antibody to work.”

Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the new mutants certainly don’t appear less virulent than previous versions of omicron, and whether they are more virulent or not "will become clear in the months ahead.”

In the meantime, scientists expect the latest powerhouse mutants to spread quickly, since they are more transmissible than their predecessors.

Though home testing makes it tough to track all U.S. COVID cases, data from Johns Hopkins University shows that cases are averaging nearly 107,000 a day, up from about 87,000 two weeks ago. And new hospital admissions of patients with COVID-19 have been trending upwards since around mid-April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’m hopeful that we don’t see a similar increase in hospitalizations that we’ve had in prior waves,” Long said. “But with COVID, any time you have lots of people being infected, it’s just a numbers game. Some of those people are going to be severe. Some of those people are going to need hospitalization. Some of them, unfortunately, are going to pass away.”


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Health
© Copyright 2022 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Police face questions over response to Texas school shooting
Law enforcement authorities in Texas are facing questions and criticism over how much time elapsed before they stormed an Uvalde elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers
12:23PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Worry about stagflation, a flashback to '70s, begins to grow
11:52AM ( 36 minutes ago )
Goodbye NYC: Census shows big city losses, Sunbelt gains
Eight of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. lost population during the first year of the pandemic
11:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
U.S. News
US Census Bureau: Big city losses early in COVID pandemic
Eight of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. lost population during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic
12:24PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Explosion at Spanish plant leaves 2 dead; 250 kids evacuated
Police in Spain say an explosion at a biodiesel plant has left two people dead and forced 250 children to be evacuated from the area
12:17PM ( 11 minutes ago )
How Abramovich was forced to sell Chelsea in fall from grace
Roman Abramovich's ownership of Chelsea is ending in a way unimaginable when he was on the field in February celebrating the team's FIFA Club World Cup triumph
12:09PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Kevin Spacey charged in UK with 4 counts of sexual assault
British prosecutors have charged actor Kevin Spacey with four counts of sexual assault against three men
11:34AM ( 54 minutes ago )
Russia slams sanctions, seeks to blame West for food crisis
Moscow is pressing the West to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis
11:34AM ( 54 minutes ago )
Palestinian official: Israel killed Al Jazeera reporter
The Palestinian Authority says its investigation into the shooting death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh proves that she was deliberately killed by Israeli forces
11:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
US making COVID antiviral drug more available at test sites
The White House has announced more steps to make the antiviral treatment Paxlovid more accessible across the U.S. as it projects COVID-19 infections will continue to spread over the summer travel season
7:24AM ( 5 hours ago )
Davos: Germany seeks 'multipolar' world amid climate protest
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed hopes for global cooperation on climate change, hunger and war as dozens of climate activists demonstrated in the Swiss town of Davos
7:04AM ( 5 hours ago )
As Ukraine war grinds, world pushes for way to get grain out
Russia is pressing for the West to lift sanctions imposed because of its war in Ukraine, claiming that the punitive measures are preventing millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products from leaving Ukrainian ports
7:02AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Minneapolis renames intersection to honor George Floyd
The intersection where George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was renamed in his honor, among a series of events to remember a man whose killing forced America to confront racial injustice
6:33AM ( 5 hours ago )
Nearly 6 years later, man indicted in mother's death at sea
Nearly six years after Nathan Carman told authorities his mother drowned at sea off the coast of New England, he has been indicted in her killing
1:14AM ( 11 hours ago )
Housekeepers struggle as US hotels ditch daily room cleaning
Many hotels across the United States have done away with daily housekeeping service, making what was already one of the toughest jobs in the hospitality industry even more grueling
1:13AM ( 11 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
WHO: COVID-19 cases mostly drop, except for the Americas
The World Health Organization says the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths are still falling globally after peaking in January
10:34AM ( 1 hour ago )
Japan to resume tourism in June; only packaged tour for now
Japan will open its borders to foreign tourists in June for the first time since imposing tight pandemic travel restrictions about two years ago, but only for package tours for now
9:30AM ( 2 hours ago )
Two years after Floyd murder, racial trauma permeates US
Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a global protest movement and calls for a racial reckoning to address structural racism that has created long-standing inequities impacting generations of Black Americans
10:19PM ( 14 hours ago )
AP Health
Goodbye NYC: Census shows big city losses, Sunbelt gains
Eight of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. lost population during the first year of the pandemic
11:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
Man rushed to school to help, learned stepdaughter died
Medical assistant Angel Garza rushed to Robb Elementary School soon after a gunman opened fire on a classroom of grade schoolers and immediately found a girl covered in blood among the terrified children streaming out of the building
11:05AM ( 1 hour ago )
Abrams-Kemp slugfest promises to be pricey, long and ugly
The governor's race in Georgia between Republican incumbent Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams promises to be a brutal battle that will further amp up the state's charged political environment
10:43AM ( 1 hour ago )
Lawsuit: 13-year-old's hands up when shot by Chicago police
A new lawsuit says a 13-year-old boy shot in the back by a Chicago police officer was unarmed and had his arms raised to surrender when he was hit by the bullet
10:36AM ( 1 hour ago )