- André Biernath
- BBC Brazil, Sao Paulo
A new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the city of Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
Scientists from 10 institutions, including Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, both in England, and the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, published an article describing the cases of this new variant, which it was called P.1.
During a pandemic, the virus is expected to mutate as it spreads from person to person.
Tracking these changes in the genetic code helps control worrying cases and eventually take action that blocks the chain of transmission.
What is striking in the case of this variant in Brazil is that the changes occurred in the genes that code for the viral spike, the structure that is on the surface of the virus and that allows it to invade the cells of our body.
That may make the coronavirus still more contagious.
How does the study was realized?
The research was published on the Virological.Org website, a discussion forum that brings together the latest information on viral evolution and epidemiology.
The scientists analyzed the genetic material of 31 samples of patients with covid-19 in the city of Manaus. This material was collected between December 15 and 23.
Of these, 13 individuals (the 42% of the total) presented precisely this new virus lineage.
From Brazil to Japan
A few days before, Japan had announced the detection of a new strain of coronavirus in people who traveled from Brazil to that country.
Everything indicates that this mutation found in the Asian country it’s the same which originated in the capital of Amazonas.
The new variant can even cause countries in various parts of the world to block flights from Brazil.
The UK has already done so, banning the entry of travelers from all over South America on a “precautionary principle.”
At the end of December, scientists from UK they identified another coronavirus mutation in the country, which they said was much more contagious than the former and that it spread rapidly across southern England and Wales, increasing the number of cases and straining the local healthcare system.
Limitations and unanswered questions
As much as it is a warning sign, the recently published work must be expanded so that everyone can better understand the impact of the new variant in Manaus.
The Brazilian city, in fact, has been living a dramatic situation in recent weeks: public and private hospitals are completely full and protection materials and treatment are scarce.
The curve for new cases and deaths continues to rise there. To date, the state of Amazonas accounts for more than 218,000 infectedand 5,800 dead by covid-19.
However, it is not known if the new variant has any influence in this chaotic scenario.
To answer these doubts, in the coming days scientists intend to increase the number of samples analyzed.
Only in this way will it be possible to understand the impact that the new variant has in Manaus and if it really is more transmissible than the previous versions.
In recent weeks, health authorities have reported the appearance of variants that are of concern in other parts of the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the strains detected in the UK and South Africa.
The data indicate that they are more transmissible than previous versions.
Although these viruses do not seem more aggressive, the fact that they affect more people can have an impact on the number of deaths.
What to do?
While we wait for more information on the new variants, the preventive measures remain the same.
The recommendation is that people stay home as long as possible and always wear masks when they need to go out.
Ventilated environments with good air circulation are also very important.
Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol gel is another essential measure.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.