How Worrying Is Deltacron COVID Variant, Hybrid of Delta and Omicron?

Research is ongoing to find out more about the newly confirmed COVID variant informally dubbed "Deltacron," which several scientists have said doesn't warrant concern so far.

On Tuesday last week, French researchers reported three cases of the variant in southern France and the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVID technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said it had also been detected in the Netherlands and Denmark.

As its informal name suggests, Deltacron is a hybrid variant that has genetic characteristics from the Delta and Omicron COVID strains. A virus that mixes in this way is called a recombinant, and this phenomenon can occur when more than one variant infects someone at the same time.

According to the virus genomic research community GISAID, last week's data on Deltacron was the "first solid evidence" for a recombinant Delta-Omicron variant. The strain has been circulating since early January, GISAID said in a note on its website.

Investigating the New Variant

Since the variant is new, scientists are still trying to find out more about it.

Etienne Simon-Loriere, a virus evolution expert at the Institut Pasteur in France, told Newsweek: "We are currently counting a bit less than 40 sequences of this recombinant, reported from France, Denmark, the Netherlands and most recently Germany.

"We are still in the assessment phase, but we are not excessively concerned with this virus. For example, we believe that it will likely behave the same as Omicron in terms of immune escape.

"Vaccinated individuals are thus very likely to be protected from severe disease, and the monoclonal antibodies that remain active against Omicron will also be usable for people who need it."

Jeremy Kamil, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport, highlighted "small numbers of cases" so far and said: "The epidemiological characteristics are not worrying."

The opinion was shared by Scott Nguyen, a bioinformatician at the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences, who tweeted on Wednesday last week: "We've been keeping an eye on it and nothing indicates any cause for concern. If anything, it's interesting to study and learn from."

The existence of a recombinant Omicron-Delta variant had been reported from Cyprus back in January this year, but a number of scientists were skeptical of the finding at that time due to what they said were signs of laboratory contamination in the data.

Asked if the new data suggests that the January findings were in fact correct, Kamil maintains they were not. "Absolutely not," he said. "The Cyprus ones were a contamination artifact."

COVID test site
A photo shows a COVID test being carried out at a drive-through testing site in Mexico on January 19, 2022. There has been confirmation of a hybrid COVID variant known as "Deltacron," but multiple scientists have said it is too early to be concerned just yet. Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty