COVID Transmissions for 1-5-2022
Is B.1.640.2 going to be the next variant of concern?
Greetings from an undisclosed location in my apartment. Welcome to COVID Transmissions.
It has been 750 days since the first documented human case of COVID-19. 750 is in the midst of a period of pretty sparse records, and many events that happened that year are set there approximately rather than exactly. One thing we do think happened in 750 is that King Eadberht of Northumbria imprisoned the Bishop of a place called Lindisfarne, the “Holy Island.” One of the reasons we know this is that Lindisfarne was a religious center and had a monastery that kept many records. It is also the first known place that Vikings raided Britain.
I wonder what future historians will make of the many records of this pandemic—especially the preprints. Today we will discuss a variant that has attracted attention because of its appearance in a preprint.
Also, we’ll talk about a concerning surge in pediatric cases in the US.
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Now, let’s talk COVID.
The “IHU”/B.1.640.2 variant
I’ve been seeing a fair amount of online discussion about a new, supposedly frightening variant that has been detected in France. I’ve heard claims suggesting that this variant is “more transmissible” than the Omicron variant.
I’d like to get ahead of this: the B.1.640.2 variant is not new, and it’s clearly not more transmissible than the Omicron variant. It was discovered weeks before the Omicron variant was identified, and in that time, has been found and isolated in far, far fewer patients than Omicron has.
You don’t have to take my word for this. Instead, read this from virologist Tom Peacock:
Something that has attracted attention to this story is that the senior author on the paper about this variant is Didier Raoult, a virologist who was at the center of controversies surrounding hydroxychloroquine.1 However, his group’s work in this instance does not seem to have any issues that I identify at first glance. I’m inclined to quote his paper, in fact, to counteract speculation about their findings:
It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this IHU variant based on these 12 cases.
That right there is really all you need to know right now, and between that and Dr. Peacock’s statement on it, I think we may not hear much about this lineage ever again. Perhaps it will recombine with something else, and that resulting new lineage will have a meaningful impact on the pandemic…or perhaps by that point it won’t even be a pandemic anymore.
One thing this may help you with is understanding that variants of viruses emerge all the time, as the viruses evolve to deal with specific situations that select for certain mutations. Not all variants are concerning, or even very successful. It looks like this is an example of one that doesn’t compete very well against other things that are out there. If nothing else, it should serve to reassure you that not every variant is cause for concern.
US Pediatric cases are surging
Worrying news—cases in US children, especially severe cases that lead to hospitalization, are on the rise. NBC News covers this story: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/covid-warning-symptoms-children-kids-hospitalized-record-numbers-rcna10741
It remains less likely for children to experience serious disease from COVID-19, but the raw number of children experiencing it appears to be on the rise in an unprecedented way. The uncommon nature of severe disease in children in, I’m sure, little comfort to the children who get it nor for their parents. The article goes into more detail on the situation.
This is shaping up to be a tough winter, I am afraid.
What am I doing to cope with the pandemic? This:
Back at work!
After a brief holiday break, I am back “in” the office. Our office has closed even more tightly due to COVID-19, however, and I rarely go in anyway. I worked today from my couch, something that was facilitated by a really neat monitor setup that my company bought me:
I’m very impressed with this thing. But I also don’t want to use this space to start advertising tech products, so if you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to me.
You might have some questions or comments! Join the conversation, and what you say will impact what I talk about in the next issue. You can also email me if you have a comment that you don’t want to share with the whole group.
Part of science is identifying and correcting errors. If you find a mistake, please tell me about it.
Though I can’t correct the emailed version after it has been sent, I do update the online post of the newsletter every time a mistake is brought to my attention.
No corrections since last issue.
See you all next time. And don’t forget to share the newsletter if you liked it.
The New York Times Magazine covered this around the time it happened: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/magazine/didier-raoult-hydroxychloroquine.html