What's The Deal With Deltacron And Should You Be Worried?

A variant that combines Omicron and Delta has been identified, but some scientists say it's a false alarm.
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Omicron and Delta have been the two most infectious strains of coronavirus to hit the UK and now, there’s reports of a new variant that combines characteristics of both.

The supposed new variant, nicknamed ‘Deltacron’, was first identified in Cyprus by Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology.

According to The Telegraph, Professor Kostrikis raised the alarm after assessing samples in his lab which appeared to show that the two variants had merged.

However, other scientists believe the hybrid samples are likely to be a result of a lab contamination, rather than a new form of Covid-19 generated by mutation.

So far, there aren’t any Deltacron cases in the UK, but should we be worried? Here’s what we know so far.

What is Deltacron and where has it been found?

Scientists have identified so-called Deltacron in 25 Covid-19 samples from Cyprus, according to Forbes. Local news sites are reporting that 11 of the samples were from patients hospitalised with Covid and 14 were from the general public.

Professor Kostrikis has stood by his initial assessment and opposed suggestions that the variant is simply a lab error caused by cross-contamination. He told Bloomberg that samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country.

“These findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is a result of a technical error,” he said.

What do other scientists have to say about it?

Research is ongoing to establish exactly what has (or hasn’t) been found in Cyprus.

Professor Ewan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), explained: “Viruses change their sequence in two ways; by changing single bases (letters) like a spelling mistake, called mutation, and by swapping chunks from different variants which have differences due to previous mutations – like a whole sentence or stanza, called recombination.

“Currently, scientists worldwide are carefully considering the possibility of the Deltacron variants, but a key first step is to confirm if this recombination has actually occurred or if the findings are due to a sequencing artifact when looking at both Omicron and Delta.”

Should we be worried?

So far, it’s too early to say for certain whether this is a lab mistake or a new variant impacting the general public, but there aren’t any cases in the UK.

There are no new variants under surveillance, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, points out that if the supposed variant is a mix of Omicron and Delta, this wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem, because the UK has already had high exposure to both.

“I think the big question will be, can it [Deltacron] out compete Omicron, and that I don’t know,” he says.

“My guess is that it will not, because Omicron has already affected many people so if its main antibody epitopes are from Omicron, Omicron has got there for many people. If it’s more like Delta, then the vaccine and boosters will be more effective than against Omicron and it would struggle to spread in a boosted population.”