A new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in California, with scientists worrying the strain could be more infectious.
The Stanford Clinical Virology Lab identified and confirmed one case of the variant — which first emerged in India — in the Bay Area, Stanford Health Care spokesperson Lisa Kim told the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday.
Seven other presumptive cases are also being screened by Stanford.
The emerging strain is called the “double mutant” because it carries two mutations in the virus that helps it latch onto cells, the news outlet reported.
The “double mutant” variant has been found in 20 percent of cases sequenced from India’s hard-hit state of Maharashtra, where coronavirus cases have surged more than 50 percent in the past week, noted Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco.
It is not yet known whether this new COVID-19 variant is more infectious or resistant to the coronavirus vaccine, but Chin-Hong said it “makes sense” that it could be more transmissible.
“It also makes sense that it will be more transmissible from a biological perspective as the two mutations act at the receptor-binding domain of the virus, but there have been no official transmission studies to date,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
One of the variant’s mutations is similar to one found on the coronavirus variants first detected in Brazil and South Africa, and the other mutation is also found in a variant first detected in California, Chin-Hong added.
“This Indian variant contains two mutations in the same virus for the first time, previously seen on separate variants,” the scientist said.
“Since we know that the domain affected is the part that the virus uses to enter the body, and that the California variant is already potentially more resistant to some vaccine antibodies, it seems to reason that there is a chance that the Indian variant may do that too,” he explained.
Several other COVID-19 variants have already been detected in the US – including the highly contagious UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, the South African variant called B.1.351, and the Brazilian variant known as P.1.
The UK variant accounts for 12,505 cases in the US, while the South Africa and the Brazil variants make up 323 and 224 cases in the country, respectively, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.