As they say, some relationships were meant to be. With the Delta and the Omicron variants of the Covid-19 coronavirus circulating so widely for so long, the two versions of the virus did not need Tinder to find each other. And voila, here’s what that unholy union seems to have produced: something that’s now been dubbed the “Deltacron” variant.
The Deltacron name first emerged in early January 2022. As Lisa Kim reported for Forbes back then, Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, and his team indicated that they had discovered a new version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that combined characteristics of the Delta and Omicron variants. They had detected this version in samples taken from 25 patients with Covid-19 in Cyprus, 11 of whom were hospitalized at the time. The research team dubbed this new version the “Deltacron” variant, as a combination of the words “Delta” and “Omicron,” perhaps because the “Delta” variant had emerged earlier than the “Omicron” variant and “Omilta” may sound too much like a militarized version of an omelet or “OMG.”
Fast forward a couple months and there is now “solid evidence for a Delta-Omicron recombinant virus.” That’s what GISAID said, based on findings shared by a team from the Institut Pasteur in France. GISAID stands for the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. Established in 2008, GISAID is a worldwide collaborative platform that allows scientists across the world to openly share genomic data originally for influenza viruses but now also for Covid-19 coronaviruses.
The word “recombinant” is related to the word “recombining” and refers to a recombining of genetic material. When two different versions of the SARS-CoV-2 infect the same cell to then play “hide the spike,” so to speak, and reproduce, they can essentially swap genetic material. This swap left, swap right situation can result in the viral “offspring” having some new combination of their “parents'” two sets of genetic material. This new “Deltacron” recombinant includes structures from both the Delta GK / AY.4 and Omicron GRA / BA.1 lineages.
As Jeremy Kamil, PhD, an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Shreveport, tweeted on March 8, this new recombinant has been circulating since early January 2022 and detected in several regions of France by the Institut Pasteur team :
France may have a reputation for being a romantic destination. But it has not been the only country to see this virus “love child” of the Delta and Omicron variants. Similar “recombined” versions of the virus have also appeared in Denmark, which was the first country in the European Union to lift Covid-19 restrictions nationwide in early February, and the Netherlands:
Such recombinants can result when your answer to the question, “are you infected with the Delta or the Omicron variant,” happens to be “yes.” With both versions of the virus in your body and in your cells at the same time, a lot of swapping left and right can occur. There’s probably already been a fair number of people infected with both the Delta and the Omicron variants simultaneously, since both variants have spread in relatively uncontrolled manners throughout the US and Europe. Therefore, the emergence of such a recombinant should not be a surprise, as Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, who’s the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) technical lead for the COVID-19 response, tweeted:
Whenever a new version of the SARS-CoV-2 emerges, the big question is whether it’s more transmissible (ie, spreads more easily) than previous versions. And whether it’s more likely to cause more severe Covid-19. OK, the two biggest questions are whether it’s more transmissible and more likely to cause more severe Covid-19. And whether it’s more adept at evading existing immune protection from vaccination or previous natural infection. Yes, these are the three biggest questions along with whether it does not respond as well to treatments such as intravenous antibodies or antivirals. OK, maybe there are four big questions. Regardless, so far, there have been too few reported cases of “Deltacron” variant infections to answer any of these questions. It would take many more cases to establish any statistically significant trends.
Therefore, even though “Deltacron” may sound like a new Transformers character, its appearance should not be a cause for panic. Of course, the WHO will rarely say, “OK, folks, it’s time to panic now. We will be releasing guidelines on how specifically to panic and flap your arms in the air. ” But the rarity of the Deltacron variant cases to date is another reason why it is not yet cause for additional concern. Like reality TV stars, new variants will continue to come and go. Some may stick around, cause a ruckus, and even become the head of a country while most others will quickly fade away and be replaced. For now, this “Deltacron” variant has not risen to the level of being either a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern,” as defined by the WHO. It does, however, bear close watching and following.
The emergence of the “Deltacron” variant is yet another reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over until official public health organizations have declared it over. And not politicians, TV personalities, or some dude on Facebook. A number of people in the US seem to be acting as if the pandemic emergency has somehow already passed even though the US has still had an average of 35,036 newly reported Covid-19 cases, 31,323 Covid-19-related hospitalizations, and 1,272 Covid- 19-related deaths per day over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times.
All of this should make you wonder whether the recent lifting of Covid-19 precautions such as face mask requirements will be yet another example of premature relaxation. And as I’ve said before for Forbes, things that are premature could leave people surprised and disappointed and a potentially messy situation. Sure this “Deltacron” variant may or may not turn out to be a nothingburger. Nevertheless, as long as the virus remains so widespread, so many people remain unvaccinated, and the SARS-CoV-2 keeps knocking spikes so frequently, chances are new variants of interest and concern will emerge at some point.