Four cases of ‘Delta Plus’ coronavirus strain found in Israel

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Four cases of “Delta Plus,” a new and potentially more dangerous coronavirus variant have been discovered in Israel, The Jerusalem Post has confirmed.

Delta Plus is a variant of the Delta strain – which is already known to be 50% more infectious than the previous Alpha (British) variant and is responsible for the majority of new cases in the country – with an additional mutation (#417).

“If the original strain was contagious after spending 15 minutes near a sick person, now it is theoretically even less,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunology lab at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post.

The Delta Plus could be even more contagious than its Delta predecessor, he said. Though, he said that it is still unclear whether the variant causes more serious disease or evades the vaccines more than other strains.

“It is a bit early to consider it worse than the original Delta, which is already problematic enough,” Cohen said. “In India, they are saying it is a bit more contagious – perhaps only to certain populations – but we still don’t have any strong evidence.”

He said that as of last week, only a few hundred cases of Delta Plus had been reported worldwide.

Cohen said that the development of new mutations is normal with viruses. To date, most coronavirus mutations have been occurring in the virus’ spike protein, which is what helps coronavirus attach to cells.

Cohen said one can think about the spike protein being built with thousands of small “bricks.” A mutation causes a change to one or more of the bricks and impacts the way the spike protein functions. Sometimes, the changes are minimal. Other times, they give the virus an evolutionary advantage, such as allowing it to attach to our cells better, evading the immune response of someone vaccinated or recovered or it could cause more severe disease.

Until now, mutations have occurred on a limited set of bricks, meaning there have only been about five or six changes of consequence and various combinations of those changes, something that Cohen said is “good news.”

“When thinking about updating the vaccine, we don’t need to work on many versions of the vaccine, but only versions that can cover most of the mutations because there are not a lot,” he said.

But he admitted that Israel might not always readily detect new variants now, as more people are diagnosed with coronavirus each day. That’s because the standard PCR tests that are used at the airport or by the health funds do not check for variants. They simply supply a positive or negative answer.

To see what strain of coronavirus someone is infected with requires genetic screening, which, he said, takes longer and is more expensive than standard testing.

When there were only a few new cases per day, the Health Ministry was sequencing all positive cases. However, with so many new people being infected, the ministry has had to be more selective.

“On a personal level, sequencing might not always be needed, but it is important to see what variants are circulating on a public health level,” Cohen said.





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