Global health experts are casting doubt over the COVID-19 “deltacron” variant, a newly reported strain of the coronavirus named for its alleged combination of characteristics from the delta and omicron variants.
Scientists in Cyprus first shared news of the potential new strain on Friday. “There are currently omicron and delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Leondios Kostrikis, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the laboratory of biotechnology and molecular virology said in an interview with Bloomberg. Dr. Kostrikis dubbed the discovery “deltacron” since the supposed new strain has similar traits to both variants.
Though Dr. Kostrikis reportedly identified 25 cases caused by the new strain, he suspected that the highly contagious omicron variant would continue to be dominant. “We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious,” he said.
Before you get too freaked out about the idea of a delta-omicron hybrid that would make “flurona” look like a case of the sniffles, global health experts have since cast doubt on Dr. Kostrikis’ COVID deltacron findings.
Delta and omicron “did NOT form a super variant,” Kruitka Kuppalli, M.D., a World Health Organization official, tweeted on Sunday. Instead, “deltacron” is more likely the result of a lab error, according to health experts, according to CNBC. “The information currently available is pointing to contamination of a sample as opposed to true recombination of #delta and #omicron variants,” Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, M.D., an infectious diseases expert at Emory University in Atlanta, tweeted.
Although at press time Dr. Kostrikis hadn’t commented on the potential of sample contamination related to his findings, this kind of lab error is fairly common, according to Tom Peacock, Ph.D., a virologist in the department of infectious disease at Imperial College in London. “This is not really related to ‘quality of the lab’ or anything similar—this literally happens to every sequencing lab occasionally!” he tweeted on Sunday. “To be sure a signal like this is real you really want multiple sequencing labs finding the same recombinant,” he added. “No clear signals of anything real or nasty happening (yet).”
So, how worried should you be? While many health experts agree that “deltacron” is likely not a thing, this kind of super-strain combination can, and likely, will happen. “With transmission levels of #SARSCoV2 at all time highs globally, it is likely that recombination is occurring and may rise to levels that we start picking up these events more frequently. Will this lead to more concerning variants? That is possible but nobody knows,” Dr. Kabisen Titanji tweeted.
“The best thing we can do besides worrying about it and coining variant names that sound like a ‘Transformers’ villain, is ensuring that vaccines are available to everyone and combining vaccination with other strategies that give the virus fewer opportunities to spread,” Dr. Titanji added. That means wearing a mask, getting boosted, and testing properly to stop the spread of omicron—and potential future variants.