Mexican scientists investigating potential new coronavirus strain

By Mariana Gonzalez-Marquez

Guadalajara, Mexico, Feb 4 (efe-epa).- Mexican authorities and scientists are investigating a possible new coronavirus strain that is believed to have originated in the western state of Jalisco.

Researchers at the University of Guadalajara’s Laboratory for Diagnosis in Emerging and Reemerging Diseases (LaDEER) announced this week the discovery of a SARS-CoV-2 mutation in the samples of four infected people from that state.

The head of the laboratory, Natali Vega, said in a press conference that these mutations could indicate that a new Mexican strain of the coronavirus exists or that the virus underwent changes during the infection-acquired immunity process.

“This mutation is important because (the new strain) could have reduced affinity for neutralizing antibodies. This means if I was already infected and generated immunity, theoretically I’d be protected if I come into contact with the virus once again. But if (the virus is altered), it’s probable that immunity won’t protect me,” she said.

Vega said the investigation has been expanded to include samples of more people infected over the past month in that state, one of Mexico’s most populous, and that researchers are carrying out sequencing and bioinformatic analysis that will yield more definitive results in two weeks.

The specialist said it is too early to say that this mutation will impinge on the effectiveness of the vaccines, adding that more in-depth clinical studies will be needed.

LaDEER is conducting free PCR (molecular) and serological tests of patients suspected of Covid-19 infection in keeping with its Radar Jalisco strategy.

Researchers at that laboratory, in tandem with a molecular diagnostics company, have reviewed 700 samples as part of an investigation to detect new variants or mutations. On Jan. 27, they detected four positive cases with a mutation similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s E484K mutation, which is present in the Brazilian and South African strains.

One of the patients had contact with a foreigner in Puerto Vallarta – a beach resort in Jalisco – before becoming ill, while the others did not report having any contact with people who had traveled abroad.

The mutation was found in a region of the virus’s S protein that binds it to the human cell receptor and is responsible for activating people’s immune systems, Francisco Muñoz, a University of Guadalajara researcher, told the media.

“Beyond whether we can detect a new strain or a new lineage that might be specific to the Mexican population, the important thing is the detection of this mutation that’s already circulating in Mexico and has had a strong impact because it reduces antibody affinity between four and 10 times,” he said.

That could pose a problem for those patients who might become reinfected after recovering from a bout with the coronavirus or those who are to be vaccinated in the coming months.

And it would complicate efforts to combat the coronavirus in Mexico, a country where 1.9 million confirmed cases have been reported and 161,200 deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 (third-most globally after the United States and Brazil).

The United Kingdom said on Dec. 14 that it had identified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 and that an initial analysis suggested it may spread more rapidly among people. That variant has since spread to dozens of countries.

The E484K mutation, discovered on Jan. 6 in a patient from Brazil, has set off alarm bells among scientists since it makes the virus both more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant.

The variant detected in late December in South Africa, meanwhile, contains a mutation that could make the virus more contagious and more resistant to an organism’s antibodies.

The Pan American Health Organization said in January that three Covid-19 variants are circulating in 14 countries of the region.

They include the British and South African strains, which were brought to the Americas by people who had traveled abroad, while a Brazilian variant that also is believed to be more contagious than the original strain is exacting a hefty toll in that country, one of the hardest-hit by Covid-19 worldwide. EFE-EPA


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