A new COVID-19 variant dubbed the Deltacron has been discovered by a scientist in Cyprus. The strain combines the delta and omicron variants. Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological science at the University of Cyprus, said it has omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes.
Kostrikis and his team have found 25 cases of the virus. “We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail against the two dominant strains – delta and omicron,” the professor said. However, other scientists believe that this new variation is a result of “laboratory contamination”.
Kostrikis argued that the cases he has identified indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not the result of a single recombination event. He said the Deltacron infection is higher among patients hospitalized for COVID-19 than among non-hospitalized patients. Kostrikis highlighted that this rules out the contamination hypothesis.
“The samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country. And at least one sequence from Israel deposited in a global database exhibits genetic characteristics of Deltacron,” he said. “These findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is a result of a technical error.”
Nick Loman, a microbial genomics professor at the University of Birmingham, explains that recombinant forms of viruses can arise when there are multiple variants of a pathogen circulating. “While a recombinant form of delta and omicron would not be a complete surprise, the finding from Cyprus is more likely a technical artefact that arose in the process of sequencing the viral genome.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant are rapidly rising across the world. Hospitals are seeing a growing trend that patients admitted for other aliments are also testing positive for COVID-19. Doctors believe it may mean more people have the asymptomatic or undiagnosed diseases than what the current data shows.
Health experts say the emerging trend of patients admitted to the hospital with COVID, instead of for COVID, may actually be a good sign. This supports the growing evidence that omicron, already the dominant strain, is less likely to cause severe illness than earlier variants were, especially in people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.