Coronavirus: UK officials seeing rise of delta plus subvariant

Health officials in the United Kingdom are “keeping a very close eye” on a COVID-19 subvariant that is being blamed for an uptick in infections in the country, according to the BBC.

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Delta plus, also known as AY.4.2, is a mutation of the delta variant and is believed to represent around 9% of COVID-19 infections in the UK during the week beginning Oct. 9, according to a briefing from the UK Health Security Agency released on Friday.

It is not uncommon for viruses to mutate. AY.4.2 is one of 45 sub-lineages of the delta variant that have been recorded across the globe. While the AY.4.2 subvariant is circulating in the UK and has been identified in the United States, it is not considered a variant of concern yet.

Three cases of AY.4.2 have been detected, with one each in California, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia.

While only three cases have been identified in the U.S. so far, some scientists are warning that delta plus could be more contagious than the delta variant.

Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, tweeted that the variant could be around 10 percent more transmissible than the delta variant based on its recent rise in the U.K.

However, Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, told the Guardian that the subvariant shouldn’t be particularly concerning.

“A222V (the name of one of two mutations that lead to the delta plus subvariant) has been seen in other lineages of delta,” Gupta said. “It doesn’t have a really large effect on the virus.”

According to the BBC story, health officials say they believe that current vaccines would be effective against the subvariant.

“At this stage I would say wait and see, don’t panic,” said Balloux. “It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously.”

What is a subvariant?

Viruses continually mutate to survive, producing variants or different versions. AY.4.2 is an offshoot of the delta variant, the variant that currently is responsible for nearly every case of COVID-19 in the United States.

The two mutations that make up AY.4.2 — Y145H and A222V — are not unique to delta plus. Those mutations have been found in other COVID-19 variants, of which there are thousands.

Researchers discovered AY.4.2 in July.

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