‘Deltacron’: What to Know About the Delta + Omicron Recombinant Variant?

"Deltacron has the spike gene from one variant, and the rest of the virus is from another variant."

3 min read
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The Recombinant COVID variant dubbed 'Deltacron'—a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants, 'was expected', says the World Health Organisation.

Deltacron was first discovered in January in Cyprus. However, the first solid evidence of the recombinant variant was shared earlier this month by the Global initiative on sharing all influenza data (GISAID).

The WHO, too, has now acknowledged the variant saying, "yes we are aware of the recombinant."

"It is a combination of Delta (AY.4) and Omicron (BA.1). It's been detected, but there are very low levels of this detection."
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead, WHO

The WHO also said that more such recombinants and variants are likely to emerge as the pandemic rages on.

"This is something that's expected given the large amount of circulation that we say with both Omicron and Delta," they added.


What Do We Know About Deltacron?

"The analysis provides definite confirmation of the structure of a recombinant virus derived from the GK/AY.4 and GRA/BA.1 lineages."
Global initiative on sharing all influenza data (GISAID).

Speaking to FIT, virologist Dr Shahid Jameel explains, "From what I know about Deltacron, it has the spike gene from one variant and the rest of the virus is from another variant."

How does this happen?

"This can only happen when there are two strands of an RNA, one from omicron and one from delta, and when they are replicating, the enzyme from one switches from one strand to another," he says.

"It's like when you're knitting, you go from one strand to another, and what you make is a hybrid."
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist

Speaking of the conditions required for this process of recombination, Dr Jameel says, "This can happen in a person who is infected with both Delta and Omicron and if in this person the immunity is low, then the virus will survive for a longer period of time."

"The longer the virus survives, it gives the opportunity for the two viruses to exchange their genetic material. This is called recombination, in technical terms."
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist

Taking to her Twitter, WHO's Dr Maria Van Kerkhove on 19 March, wrote, "What happens when we allow the virus to circulate at such an intense level."

"The virus continues to evolve and more variants are expected. Recombinants are also expected… as we have been explaining for a very long time."
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead, WHO

Speaking of how this recombinant was identified, Dr Van Kerkhove explained, "given the sheer number of mutations on Omicron, it became much easier for people who are studying these genomes to detect these recombinants."

According to data collected by the GISAID, cases of deltacron have been identified in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands among other countries.


Deltacron in India

The variant has been detected in India as well.

Latest sequencing data comes from Telangana where 25 cases of the recombinant have been recorded according to data collected by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), reported Telangana Today.

The exact number of cases of Deltacron in India is unknown.

Merely the presence of this recombinant is not a cause for worry, say health experts.

“Several recombinant variants have been detected during the course of the pandemic so far, but they have not led to any serious outbreaks—let's wait for more evidence before reaching any conclusion in this case too,”

Is this Variant More Dangerous?

As with any new variant, one of the first questions that pops into one's mind is, 'does it cause more severe illness?'

So far, it doesn't seem to be all bad news.

"Something to ask is, whether something like this is spreading faster than existing variants, or is it evading immunity better than the existing variants. And on both counts, the answer is no."
Dr Shahid Jameel

"It is a low frequency event,"he adds. "It will only propagate if it gives the virus some additional advantage. It doesn't appear to be so."

According to the WHO, experts studying the variant have not seen any difference in the epistemology of this variant.

"We haven't seen any change in severity, but there are many studies under way" they added.

"So its really critical that we have testing, and its really critical that we continue with sequencing, that we have good geographic representation of sequencing around the world."
the WHO

(Written with inputs from Telangana Today.)

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Topics:  COVID-19   COVID Variant 

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