Deltacron, the reported new variant of COVID-19 said to combine both delta and omicron variants, has sparked a reaction of skepticism from world health experts.
Scientists have expressed their doubts about its existence to various media platforms, saying that deltacron is likely the result of a lab contamination error. However, on Monday, the scientist behind the discovery defended his findings. A Cyprus researcher discovered deltacron, according to a report in Bloomberg News Saturday.
According to the report, Leondios Kostrikis, who is a biological sciences professor at the University of Cyprus, discovered a genetic background of the delta variant along with some mutations of omicron. The media report stated that Kostrikis and his team claim to have found 25 cases and sent the findings to GISAID, an international database that tracks changes in the virus.
Kostrikis told the Cyprus Sigma TV network last week, “We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious,” but he told the media outlet that the dominant strain will be omicron, according to multiple reports.
Nurse Ray Akindele processes COVID-19 rapid antigen tests at a testing site in Long Beach , Calif., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at the Imperial College in London, tweeted that the anomaly appears to be “quite clearly contamination” and said that it does not meet the criteria for a new variant.
Another World Health Organization COVID-19 expert, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, also wrote on her Twitter account, “This is likely sequencing artifact (lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen)”.
Amidst the backlash, Kostrikis defended his findings with an emailed statement Sunday to the Bloomberg media outlet.
Nurse Mary Ezzat prepares to administer a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot to Jessica M., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, at UCI Medical Center in Orange, California. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP)
Kostrikis told the media outlet that the contamination hypothesis should be ruled out because the deltacron infection rate was higher among hospitalized patients with COVID-19 than among non-hospitalized patients, according to the report.
The researcher in Cyprus said that the cases he identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event,” according to the report.
Kostrikis also said in the media report that the samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country. According to his statement in the report, at least one other sequence from Israel was deposited in a global database that exhibited deltacron genetic characteristics.
Puseletso Lesofi prepares to sequence COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa Wednesday Dec. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay/File)
“These findings refute the undocumented statements that deltacron is a result of a technical error,” Kostrikis said in the media report.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., emergency department physician Dr. Fred Davis told Fox News, “The reports out of Cyprus are the first we are hearing of such a variant and will continue to be followed.” Davis, who is the associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health on Long Island in New York, did tell Fox News that vaccines are helping with the fight against COVID-19 and its variants.
While emergency departments remain vigilant for COVID-19 variant cases, infectious disease expert Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, who is the chair of the department of medicine, and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island, New York, told Fox News, “Variant strains of Covid-19 are always something that needs to be carefully observed and evaluated.”
“At this time, there is simply insufficient information available for anyone to make a reasonable assessment as to what this particular strain represents,” Glatt, who is also a spokesperson for the Society of Infectious Diseases of America, told Fox News.