What You Need To Know About The Botswana Variant With A ‘Large Number Of Mutations’

, What You Need To Know About The Botswana Variant With A ‘Large Number Of Mutations’, The Evepost Huff News
, What You Need To Know About The Botswana Variant With A ‘Large Number Of Mutations’, The Evepost Huff News

A new Covid variant has been identified in Botswana and with no countries currently on the red list for travel, some are wondering what it means for the UK.

Scientists are concerned as this variant, named B.1.1529, has a high number of mutations which could potentially make it tricker for the immune system to attack.

The variant is being closely monitored with research ongoing, but here’s what we know about it so far.

Where has the variant been detected?

B.1.1529 was first found in Botswana on November 11. Three days after that, cases were found in South Africa and another case was identified in Hong Kong, in a 36-year old man who flew from South Africa. So far there aren’t any cases identified in the UK.

How is the variant different?

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology told The Guardian work in his lab found that two of the 32 mutations on B.1.1.529 increased infectivity and reduced “antibody recognition” – this means the mutations may make it harder for immune cells to respond. However, researchers are still analysing the infectiousness of this strain overall.

“It does certainly look a significant concern based on the mutations present,” he said. “However, a key property of the virus that is unknown is its infectiousness, as that is what appears to have primarily driven the Delta variant. Immune escape is only part of the picture of what may happen.”

Proffesor Francois Balloux, the director of the UCL Genetics Institute, agreed that it is difficult to predict how transmissible the variant may be at this stage. However, she shed some light on the possible origins of the mutation.

“Given the large number of mutations it has accumulated apparently in a single burst, it likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient,” she said in a statement.

Should we be worried?

Professor Gupta tweeted to say: “This one is worrying and I’ve not said that since Delta. Please get vaccinated and boosted and mask up in public as the mutations in this virus likely result in high level escape from neutralising antibodies.”

Greg Dore, an infectious disease physician at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia added: “B.1.1.529 variant has mutations associated with reduced vaccine effectiveness. But, if it’s a ‘less fit’ virus and has reduced transmission potential then not huge problem. Time to monitor, not time to panic.”

B.1.1.529 was added to the World Health Organisation’s list of variants under monitoring on Wednesday 24th of November.