A patient with coronavirus infection at a clinic in Shanghai, China.
Over the past week, the covid incidence per 100,000 people in Russia increased by as much as 40.5%, the COVID-19 operational headquarters reported on Monday, January 16. In this case, don’t be fooled by the ease of infection. Hospitalizations also increased: according to official figures, 32% more people infected with coronavirus per 100,000 people were admitted to hospitals during the same period. What’s next for us?
Some scientists believe that the virus is constantly evolving to mitigate illness, becoming closer to “ordinary” cold pathogens. However, there are skeptics (or realists?) who warn that humanity may have unpleasant surprises. One of the prerequisites for this is the “kraken” subvariant. This warning was issued by the experts of the scientific journal Nature.
“OUT OF COMPETITION”
In a subvariant of the XBB.1.5 coronavirus, called “kraken,” the researchers found a rare mutation. This is the so-called F486P amino acid substitution in the spike protein, with which the covid pathogen attaches itself to human cells. It is this evolutionary change that appears to help the updated virus infect people more productively, the scientists say. However, after all, the previous subvariants of the “omicron” also increased this ability: they were transmitted from person to person better than the other. But the “kraken” mutation is called emphatically rare and has particularly alarmed researchers.
“It will almost certainly take over the world. I can’t find any competitor now. Everything else is second to none, said Yunlong Cao, an immunologist at Peking University, whose team is studying the properties of XBB.1.5 in the lab.
The main danger is this. The more actively the mutant virus is transmitted and the more people it infects, the greater the likelihood that new genetic changes and properties will emerge, including those that are unfavorable for humans. Yes, even the “softest” and “humane” corona strains can be “born”. But no one guarantees that something more terrifying than today’s “kraken” won’t jump out of a snuffbox, the researchers warn.
Actually, the “omicron” itself, whose descendants now prevail, at one time greatly confused experts with the unexpected and unpredictability of its appearance. It was very different genetically from the coronavirus strains that were around then. Experts even discussed the version of the possible artificial origin of specifically “omicron” – its selection in the laboratory. The head of the laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Biology gave arguments in favor of this hypothesis KP.RU. VIRGINIA. Engelhardt, Corresponding Member of the Petr Chumakov Russian Academy of Sciences.
Anyway, omicron was a relatively pleasant surprise – a less severe version of covid compared to previous ones. But this is no reason to be sure this will continue, evolutionary biologists emphasize.
QUESTION-EDGE: HOW TO REDUCE THE RISKS?
To reduce the threat of new mutations with unpredictable consequences, it is necessary to slow down the transmission and spread of the virus, experts explain. How can I do that?
The ideal first option is the creation of highly effective and safe vaccines that can protect against infection with the evolving corona. Current vaccines do a good job of protecting against the serious and fatal complications of infection, which is certainly very important. However, it is against infection, the person-to-person transmission of the virus, that vaccines now weakly protect. Both in the world and in our country, vaccines are being actively developed that would enhance immunity precisely at the entrance gate of the virus – in the nose and oropharynx. At the same time, it is also necessary to keep up with the mutations of the changing causative agent of covid. Perhaps, to solve this problem, polyvalent vaccines are needed, like the ones we now inject against the flu: against 3-4 strains at a time.
The second option is reasonable, without excesses, restrictions for patients with the infection. Of course, no one is talking about a return to full lockdowns. But if a person is clearly sick and contagious, he should still be on sick leave and not increase the chain of “corona” transmission, right? Today, in this matter, the authorities of most countries, including ours, have decided to rely on the conscience of patients. There are no longer mandatory individual quarantines.
The third option is greater protection for certain groups of people. Those who jokingly call “coronavirus incubators”. These are patients with severely weakened immune systems: people with HIV receiving chemotherapy for cancer, people with organ transplants. In your body, the coronavirus often remains and circulates for a long time. As a result, the risk of mutation within the person increases. And “at the exit” we can get an unexpected genetic version of the “crown” with unpredictable properties.
Therefore, people from risk groups are advised to observe precautionary measures as strictly as possible. During periods of increased incidence, avoid visiting crowded places and use highly protective respirators (class 2 and 3).
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