Two additional strains of COVID-19 identified by Texas A&M scientist
“We don’t know that either of these is particularly any worse, although viruses with some of the mutations in BV-2 does seem to be spreading in Mexico and Texas.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) -Scientists at the Texas A&M University Global Health Research Complex (GHRC) have identified two additional strains of the COVID-19 virus. On Monday, the university announced the first strain BV-1 was identified in an individual who only had mild symptoms.
BV-2 and BV-3, named for the Brazos Valley, were recently identified from samples collected from on campus testing of students and faculty. Mandatory COVID-19 saliva testing for students living, studying, or working on the Texas A&M University campus in Bryan-College Station began back in March.
The Global Health Research Complex says the first sample that led to the identification of the BV-1 strain came from a student who resides off campus but is active on campus originations. The student’s sample tested positive on March 5 and was later re-tested and confirmed by an independent federally regulated lab at St. Joseph Regional Hospital. At this time, details of the origin of the two additional strains have not been released.
“The student later provided a second sample that tested positive on March 25, indicating the variant may cause a longer-lasting infection than is typical of COVID-19 for adults ages 18-24,” a statement from the Texas A&M University Global Health Research Complex read. “A third sample obtained on April 9 was negative and revealed no evidence of virus. The student presented mild cold-like symptoms in early to mid-March that never progressed in severity and were fully resolved by April 2.”
Texas A&M professor of biology and GHRC Chief Virologist Ben Neuman says the new strains identified are only slight variations from the previously identified variant.
“So the piece of the coronavirus spike that’s actually going to stick onto the cell is kind of shaped like a banana and even curved like a banana,” said Neuman. “So at one end of the banana, you’ve got the change that makes the UK variant stick a little bit better. One of these that we found BV-2 has another change at the opposite end of the banana, and we think that one might also make it stick a little bit better or may block some antibodies. But overall, that’s really the only change in this one that seems to really jump out at me as something that might be connected with what the virus does.”
Neuman says the lab is paying close attention to the variant BV-3, which seems to be a combination of variants.
BV-3, I think is an interesting one because it looks like it is partly a very common strain that you’d find in this area and partly the UK variant,” said Neuman. “It’s a recombinant, which means that somebody probably had caught two versions of the virus at the same time, two different variants, and the virus kind of recombined mixed together inside of them, and so you get this little monstrosity. We don’t know that either of these is particularly any worse, although viruses with some of the mutations in BV-2 does seem to be spreading in Mexico and Texas.”
Neuman says he’s sure more hyperlocal strains, and variants are in the Brazos Valley, but it will require more time, money, and resources to identify.
“I think right now it looks as though a lot of variants are only found in one place. So that would be hyper-local. I mean, the most hyper-local would be found in just one person in one place, but the truth is that most places that are doing tests that just give you a yes or no answer. They wouldn’t tell you which strain a person has,” said Neuman. “So, because of that, for the most part, we don’t know which strain a person gets when they get COVID-19, and we’re trying to sort that out, at least for our local population. So I think some things may look as though they’re unique here right now, but I think if we start flipping over more rocks, we’re going to find more of these things cause viruses spread, and that’s just what they do.”
Neuman says genome sequencing will be important in studying to see how the new variants respond to COVID-19 vaccines.
“In terms of being able to do a really good job at both treating a patient and figuring out what the virus is doing and how to slow it down, this is really important information from a practical standpoint. It takes time, and it costs money. It’s a great epidemiological tool,” said Neuman. “It shows what version is going around, and knowing this can help people to tweak the vaccines that are out there and make them a little bit better at picking up some of these.
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