Scientists are raising concerns over a new COVID19 variant that has been identified in California.
Two studies Suggest the variant, which the virologists call B.1.427/B.1.429, might not only be more contagious, but may also cause more severe disease.
A team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across the state and found the new variant was becoming far more common. It wasn’t seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half of them.
While the research is in its very early stages scientists say the variant has a different pattern of mutations than the ones first seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
One of its mutations affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the part that attaches to cells the virus infects.
Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF and the study’s lead, said the mutation might make the virus more efficient at docking to cells, increasing its infectiousness.
Chiu’s team also found some evidence it is more dangerous.
The scientists said they observed “increased severity of disease” associated with the new variant, including “increased risk of high oxygen requirement.”
Public health experts fear new variants are outpacing the vaccinations, which is why many have highlighted the need to double down on safety measures like wearing face masks, social distancing and avoiding crowded areas.