New coronavirus variant, B1526, identified in New York: Researchers

NEW YORK A new coronavirus variant that shares some similarities with a more transmissible and intractable variant discovered in South Africa is on the rise in New York City, researchers said on Wednesday.

The new variant - known as B1526 - was first identified in samples collected in New York in November, and by mid-February represented about 12 per cent of cases, researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons said on Wednesday.

It was also described in research published this week by the California Institute of Technology. Neither study has been reviewed by outside experts.

The Columbia researchers said an analysis of publicly available databases did not show a high prevalence of virus variants recently identified in South Africa and Brazil in case samples from New York City and surrounding areas.

"Instead, we found high numbers of this home-grown lineage," Dr Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases, said in a statement.

The Columbia study found that B1526 shares some worrying characteristics with B1351, the variant first identified in South Africa, and P1, which was first identified in Brazil.

Several studies have suggested that those new variants are more resistant to some existing vaccines than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

The researchers said the main concern is a change in one area of the virus' spike protein, called E484K, that is in all three variants. The E484K mutation is believed to weaken the body's immune response to the virus.

Studies have shown that recently launched vaccines are still likely to neutralise the virus and protect against severe illness, even for new variants.

Vaccine-makers are also working to develop booster shots to combat mutated versions of the virus. - REUTERS