SÃO PAULO – European scientists have discovered a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2, virus that causes covid-19, which has been spreading rapidly Europe since June and is already responsible for the majority of cases seen in the second wave of infections in some countries on the continent.
a study made by researchers from the Universities of Basel (Switzerland) and Valencia (Spain) and released this Wednesday, 28, on the platform MedRxiv reveals that the variant was originally identified in June in the Iberian country, becoming, in the following month, representing 40% of all cases in Spain. Today, it is already responsible for 80% of the registrations in Spanish territory. The spread would have started at an event for farmers in northeastern Spain.
In other European countries, the new variant, dubbed 20A.EU1, represented, in September, 40% to 70% of all infections registered in Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was also prevalent in Norway, the Netherlands, France and Latvia. The new virus sequence has already been identified in 12 European nations, in addition to Hong Kong and New Zealand.
According to the scientists, hundreds of variants of the new coronavirus are currently circulating, but few have successfully spread and become prevalent. The variants are differentiated by mutations in their genomes.
The researchers point out that one of the mutations found in the genetic material of the new variant of the virus that differentiates it from previous versions occurs in spike protein, used by the pathogen to invade human cells. Despite this, it is not yet known whether this characteristic makes the new variant more transmissible than the others or whether the mutation may be associated with the rapid spread of the disease in this second wave of the pandemic on the European continent.
“It is not clear whether this variant is spreading because of an advantage in transmitting the virus or whether the high incidence in Spain followed by dissemination through tourists is sufficient to explain the rapid increase in several countries”, the authors point out in the article .
The scientists warn that, although there are still no details on the greater risk associated with the variant, it is necessary to assess whether measures of control and containment of the pathogen at borders are sufficient to stop a new spread of the covid. They believe that the spread of the virus is associated with loosening measures of social distance and control of visitor entry.
“Although there is no evidence that this variant is more dangerous, its dissemination can provide information on the effectiveness of travel policies adopted by European countries during the summer,” says a statement from the University of Basel about the study.
Microbiologist Natalia Pasternak, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at USP and president of the Instituto Questão de Ciência, says the research demonstrates the need to monitor possible mutations of the new coronavirus, but highlights that there are still more gaps than answers about the action different variants.
“To be sure that it has greater transmissibility or any clinical impact, more detailed studies would be needed. For now, what the work shows, and very well, is the need for a monitoring and sequencing system to monitor the evolution of the virus. But there is no way to conclude yet whether the observed mutations are related to greater transmission or symptoms ”, she says.
For infectologist Celso Granato, professor at Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and medical director of Grupo Fleury, the study data do not yet allow us to conclude whether the prevalence of a new variant in some countries may impact diagnosis, treatment or even vaccines that are being developed against the disease.
“It is an important warning, but we still don’t have those answers. It may be that this variant is responsible for the rapid increase in cases seen now, but it may be more of an epidemiological issue, ”he says, referring to the possibility that the virus is spreading more quickly because of the end of quarantines in the country. most countries during the European summer.
Europe was once again the center of the pandemic. The continent has a daily average of 220 thousand new cases in the last seven days, a 44% increase over the previous week. The region approaches 2 thousand dead per day.