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article image'Great concern' as UK coronavirus variant has mutated again

By Karen Graham     Feb 2, 2021 in Health
London - Public Health England is investigating cases of coronavirus with 'worrying' new genetic changes that have been found in some regions of the UK. Tests show they have a mutation, called E484K, already seen in the South Africa and Brazil variants.
The E484K coronavirus mutation occurs on the spike protein of the virus and is of "great concern" because it could impact vaccine efficacy, a professor of outbreak medicine who is part of a panel that advises the British government said on Tuesday, reports CNBC News.
“The mutation of most concern, which we call E484K, has also occurred spontaneously in the new Kent strain in parts of the country too,” said Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, on BBC radio, referring to the southern English county where the U.K. variant was first detected.
The mutation has been identified in 11 cases in Bristol and a cluster of 32 cases in Liverpool. Scientists with Public Health England say the "Kent" variant with the E484K mutation was seen in 11 out of 214,159 samples that they tested,
Dr. Julian Tang, a virus expert at the University of Leicester, described the finding as "a worrying development, though not entirely unexpected." He went on to say that it was very important that lockdown and other mitigation strategies be kept in force to stop the spread of the virus.
The coronavirus has killed more than two million people around the world
The coronavirus has killed more than two million people around the world
Amanuel SILESHI, AFP
"Otherwise not only can the virus continue to spread, but it can also evolve, he said, adding, “Unfortunately, the lack of control of these different variants in the U.K. may lead this population to become a melting pot for different emerging SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 variants."
The E484K mutation that occurred spontaneously in Britain has already been reported in a technical briefing published by Public Health England, but this paper has not been widely noticed outside scientific circles.
The report said the mutation had been detected in 11 B.1.1.7 genomes, possibly as a result of “more than one acquisition event”, suggesting that the 11 genomes were not all linked to each other and the mutation may have occurred spontaneously at separate locations.
If you think of the E484K variant in layman's terms, it is more like map coordinates. The number 484 is the exact location of the mutation, the letter E is the amino acid that it was originally and the letter K is the amino acid that it has mutated into.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain's existing 'extreme' measures weren't ...
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain's existing 'extreme' measures weren't enough to slow the virus
Paul ELLIS, AFP
While 11 samples showing the new mutation aren't a lot, the mutation is being monitored closely. University of Iowa virologist, Stanley Perlman points out that a virus can only mutate so many times before losing some of its punch, reports the Washington Post.
"It can't keep mutating because it's going to lose the properties of being an all-around transmissible and pathogenic virus. You don't have an infinite number of ways to make yourself better." He may have been referring to the 1918 flu virus that eventually weakened as it spread around the world.
The 1918 flu pandemic was the first of two pandemics caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus; the second was the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
More about UK variant, spontaneously mutated, E484K mutation, similar to South African and Brazil variants
 
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