As more cases of the highly contagious variant of the corona virus are found in the United States, there is growing concern among scientists that the country has not done enough to monitor genetic mutations in the virus, thus leaving Americans in the dark with dangerous new strains.
So far, at least 50 cases of the first corona virus variant to be detected in the United Kingdom have been identified in the United States. In the UK, the rapid spread of the so-called P1.1.7 variant sent the country into a tight lock-up this week as cases increased.
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Now scientists in the United States are racing to find out how widespread the UK variant is in the United States.
You can only see where the light is, and if the light is not bright enough, you are going to lose a lot of territory.
“Clearly, we didn’t do this enough,” said Gigi Quick Cronwall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Health Care Center. “You can only see where the light is, and if the light is not bright enough, you are going to lose a lot of territory.”
Concerns about the disappearance of American scientists are not just the UK variant: new types of viruses are emerging all the time, but the country needs a system to quickly detect strains that can behave differently, or to make vaccines and treatments less effective.
The discovery of new strains involves sequencing the genetic code of the virus. This is a lengthy process that can take days to complete and can cost from $ 10 to $ 100 per model, depending on the technology. This process uses samples of Covit-19 diagnostic tests, which are otherwise discarded.
But “it’s not that complicated,” said Brian O’Rock, a human geneticist at the University of Oregon Health and Science, who highlighted his work on sequencing the virus as part of the university’s Oregon SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing center. “This is similar to other sequencing attempts made by others for other viruses.”
However, according to the nonprofit GISAID initiative, one of the few international databases containing genetic information for more than 300,000 virus samples worldwide, the United States ranks only about 60,000 samples or 0.3 percent of all cases. The number of cases in the United States is very low compared to other countries such as the United Kingdom, which has almost doubled the number of cases.
“We don’t have a national integrated organization to do this on a large scale,” O’Rock said. “Perhaps with the plight of the UK now, this is an awakening call for many in the public health world.”
A CDC spokesman said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has promised to increase genetic sequencing in the United States since the discovery of the strain in the UK, with the agency doubling the number of samples lined up with state public health officials and education and public health laboratories. Every week.
But some say the effort is too late and too late because the virus is already prevalent in the country.
Joe Trici, co-chair of San Zuckerberg BioHub in California, which lined up 10,000 samples for the state, said there was no federal plan for strategic monitoring of virus mutations.
“1,000 sites need to be deployed just like us,” Trici said. “There are very few people who do this. If you compare this to the nation as a whole, it’s pathetically small. There is very little level of surveillance going on.”
At the Oregon Center, O’Rourke and his colleagues have been monitoring virus mutations since the outbreak.
Mutations in the corona virus are common, O’Rock said. In fact, it appears to mutate every two weeks, which is slower than that of other common viruses, including influenza. The corona virus has been modified thousands of times since the appearance of the original strain in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and he said most samples from his lab were 15 to 20 times mutant compared to the original strain.
“Many of these changes are made from the same pattern, we don’t see them again, others are campaigning and becoming more general,” O’Rock said.
Even for the most common variants, most of the time the changes are silent, meaning they are small changes in the genetic code of the virus and do not affect its behavior. But like the UK variant, other mutations are significant and can affect how the virus works.
But no matter how widespread the virus is, scientists say it is more likely to change. In addition to the UK variant, public health officials are also monitoring the South African strain, which scientists fear could be avoided by treatments and vaccinations.
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In fact, the biggest fear is that a new variant may appear where newer vaccines are less effective. (That’s why people have to get flu shots every year because the virus changes to the point where the previous year’s vaccine didn’t work.)
“We need to understand how the virus spreads and how the virus develops, especially as we bring a wide range of vaccines and treatments,” O’Rock said. “We’m only been handling this virus for a year. We do not understand it very well. But if we do not shine the attention of the virus genome, we will never know.”
Meanwhile, laboratories in the UK are working to determine if the vaccine will affect its effectiveness and to gain a clearer understanding of how contagious it is. On Friday, Pfizer-Bioentech announced the results of a study whose vaccine could protect against one of the mutations in the UK variant.
More accurate communication tracking
Increasing the genetic tracking of the virus has the added benefit of identifying new strains of concern that provide insight into how the virus traveled from person to person.
When the corona virus spreads to another person, it leaves a genetic fingerprint, allowing scientists to compare how different strains are transmitted in real time.
During the first six months of the infection, O’Rock and his team identified five major substrates in Oregon. Were connected with some large wide-ranging events.
Those strains, or their descendants, are not there yet, he said.
“Most of the early introductions, relatives of the virus are still spreading,” he said. “It tells us – not surprisingly – how widespread the virus is and how it is out of control.”
Monitoring genetic mutations is also used to prevent outbreaks.
Trici said his lab operates with 28 counties in California and is at the forefront of deployment. Most districts use genetic information to carry out an accurate form of communication tracking. Using what Tercy calls genetic epidemiology, public health officials can look at the genetic sequence from positive tests. Genetic fingerprints are then detected by explosion, which may be important in systems such as agricultural facilities or nursing homes.
“Genetic epidemiology clarifies that and provides a clear accurate map for the public health department to know what to investigate,” he said. “It saves hundreds and hundreds of people time and pursues.”