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Another day, another new COVID-19 variant—or at least that’s what it may feel like during a pandemic. Each new variant that’s uncovered has the potential to behave differently from the original virus. But what happens when the new variant is a combination of two that already exist? We may learn more through a possible new variant called Deltacron.
What’s a variant?
Coronavirus, like all viruses, needs to use a host’s cells (like human cells) to make copies of itself and spread. But the copying process is far from perfect, and errors—aka mutations—happen pretty often. Most errors are small and don’t really change how the virus behaves. But some errors pack a bigger punch. They can change the virus so much that it may spread faster, hide from your immune system, or even fight back against vaccines and treatments.
The delta variant is a great example of this. Delta’s mutations make it much more contagious, so it spreads much more quickly than the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus first identified in 2019. Mutations also led to the rise of the omicron variant, which is much more contagious than the original virus (CDC, 2021-a; CDC, 2021-b). Because of these mutations, Delta and Omicron became the most common variants in the United States.
What’s different about the Deltacron variant?
The Deltacron variant was first identified in January 2022. It was uncovered by Leondios Kostrikis, head of the Cypriot Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology and professor at the University of Cyprus, who identified the variant in 25 people with COVID. But there was something unusual about this variant—it had a combination of viral genetic material from two previous variants. Since it had features of both Delta and Omicron, Dr. Kostrikis referred it as “Deltacron” (CNBC-a, 2022).
The 25 possible Deltacron cases were found in different settings. Eleven were identified in people hospitalized with more severe COVID, and 14 cases were identified in people who were not hospitalized (Sussex World, 2022).
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Should you worry about the Deltacron variant?
It may not be time to worry just yet. There’s some debate about whether Deltacron is even a true COVID-19 variant. Some health experts, like Dr. Krutika Kuppalli of the World Health Organization (WHO), believe that this “supervariant” doesn’t exist. Dr. Kuppalli believes that the discovery of Deltacron was caused by a lab error or a specimen contamination (NY Post, 2022).
Other virologists, such as Dr. Tom Peacock of Imperial College London, agree that this new finding is probably contamination rather than recombination (changes in the viral genome) (CNBC-b, 2022). Dr. Kostrikis disagrees and believes that Deltacron is a new strain, especially since the samples were found in different locations, from separate labs in different countries (SCMP.com, 2022).
Further research is needed to determine exactly what Deltacron is and what it represents. It’s currently being tracked in GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data), a large database that keeps track of viruses and changes in virus genomes (CNBC-b, 2022).
It may be discouraging to hear of yet another new variant. You may wonder if it will it be more contagious or have more severe symptoms. But in the case of Deltacron, there may be no cause for concern. Time will tell whether this new variant actually exists and how it will behave.
- Bloomberg. (2022). Cypriot scientist says Deltacron COVID variant not error. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-09/cypriot-scientist-says-covid-19-variant-deltacron-not-an-error
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021-a). Delta Variant: What We Know About the Science. Retrieved on Jan. 4, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant-info.html#Interest
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021-b). Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know. Retrieved on Jan. 4, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html
- CNBC-a. (2022). Cyprus reportedly discovers a Covid variant that combines omicron and delta. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/08/cyprus-reportedly-discovers-a-covid-variant-that-combines-omicron-and-delta.html
- CNBC-b. (2022). Experts cast doubts over reported ‘deltacron’ variant, say likely due to lab contamination. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/10/deltacron-variant-prompts-doubts-among-experts-as-possible-lab-error.html
- The Cyprus Mail. (2022). Coronavirus: Cyprus’ Deltacron could just be contamination, Imperial College virologist says (Update 2). Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://cyprus-mail.com/2022/01/09/coronavirus-cyprus-deltacron-could-just-be-contamination-imperial-college-virologist-says/
- Sussex World. (2022). Experts dismiss claims of new ‘Deltacron’ Covid strain found in Cyprus. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/health/coronavirus/experts-dismiss-claims-of-new-deltacron-covid-strain-found-in-cyprus-3520814
- The Hindustan Times. (2022). Is Deltacron real? What scientists say about Covid-19 strain found in Cyprus. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/is-deltacron-real-what-scientists-say-about-covid-19-strain-found-in-cyprus-101641725694717.html
- The Independent. (2022). ‘Deltacron’: New Covid variant or laboratory error? Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/covid-omicron-symptoms-error-delta-variant-b2003988.html
- New York Post (NY Post). (2022). Cyprus scientists discover ‘Deltacron’ — but other experts dispute finding. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://nypost.com/2022/01/10/cyprus-scientists-discover-deltacron-but-experts-dispute-claim/
- SCMP.com. (2022). Coronavirus: ‘Deltacron’ discovery not a mistake, says scientist who claims he found new variant. Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2022 from https://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/3162762/coronavirus-deltacron-discovery-not-mistake-says-scientist-who
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.