Why You Shouldn’t Panic About Deltacron Just Yet

Last week it was flurona . This week it’s something called “deltacron”. We’re ready to say “oh shit” when we hear about a new option because we’ve been burned by quite a few of them by now. But there are more scary names than there are things we really need to be afraid of.

Not so long ago we were warned about ” delta plus “. It fizzled out. On the other hand, Delta was real and her surge was especially bad and still hasn’t gone away. Omicron is real and certainly still a problem. So how do we know which options to worry about?

I’ll give you an important hint: it’s not the time to panic when someone gives a virus a catchy new name. You might think about panic when an option is on the World Health Organization’s list of “Options of Concern” . There are currently five positions on this list: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron. (There is also a second list of variants of interest, which currently only contains Lambda and Mu. A variant can start as VOI and upgrade to VOC.)

Why Options Make Headlines Even When They Don’t Matter

There are two reasons not to panic too soon. First, the options must compete with each other in the real world. This is natural selection at work: if a variant doesn’t reproduce well, it simply won’t get very far. Remember that variants are usually of concern because they are more contagious than the ones that used to be. Delta is just easier to catch than the original COVID flavor. Omicron may even be more contagious than Delta. So if there’s a new variant that looks intimidating but has distribution problems, it’s unlikely to ever become a big problem.

But here’s another reason: sometimes a scary new name doesn’t even refer to a real virus . We just went through this last week, remember? Several people contracted COVID and the flu at the same time, and suddenly there were a hundred headlines about “fluron”.

Flurona is not a hybrid virus or a unique threat , but just a random, unfortunate coincidence. Physicians and scientists should certainly pay attention to coinfections, for example, if the coinfection requires special treatment. But this is not the time to panic.

And that brings us to the deltacron, which at first looked like it was a real hybrid of two COVID viruses. Some scientists in Cyprus reported that they had found RNA sequences that included characteristic Delta and Omicron mutations. But experts are skeptical.

“This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lines,” Geoffrey Barrett, COVID genomics expert, told Science Media UK . He points out that the putative mutation is the same as a known technical problem that could occur during the testing process, causing the hybrid to look superficial.

Other scientists have pointed out that the new deltacron sequences do not fit into any reasonable place on the family tree of all COVID variants. If Delta and Omicron really did come together in a freak accident, and now 25 people are infected with this new virus, one would expect all 25 samples to be similar to each other and appear next to each other on a large genealogical tree of viruses. . . They don’t. What most experts see in these data is a strong consequence of the fact that there was contamination in the lab, and that the contamination showed up in these 25 very different samples.

So the deltacron isn’t real? Well, probably not. The team that first identified the new sequences says they still think they’ve found something real , and more research will be needed to figure out exactly what’s going on. But even if it turns out that deltacron really exists, we still have no reason to believe that it is an unusually special or dangerous virus. If so, we will soon find out. No need to worry until there is some evidence to worry about.

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