With COVID cases in the U.S. hitting an 8-month low, the World Health Organization last week confirmed the arrival of a new COVID-19 variant identified as Deltacron.
Currently in the U.S., there have been two cases identified of this hybrid variant, both in California.
Three top Boston doctors spoke to NBC10 Boston during our weekly "COVID Q&A" session and gave encouraging news about what to expect from this emerging variant.
What is the deltacron variant?
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"These variants have been around for a little while," Brigham and Women's Hospital's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes said. "The general consensus is that [the variant is] no more concerning than omicron and that it is unlikely to lead to any new surge. Of course, we will always wait to see what actually happens. But for the moment, I don't think there is a real reason to be concerned."
Dr. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist at Tuft's Medical Center, echoed her colleague. She said this hybrid variant has been around since January and hasn't resulted in a surge.
"It doesn't sound concerning because the spike is essentially omicron so the immunity our population has achieved through infection will likely cover this variant well. Vaccines will also prevent serious disease, so it doesn't look likely to create a second wave of any kind," she said.
According to the WHO, there has been no change in severity in the few patients that have reported getting this new variant and there are more studies underway to get more details about this hybrid variant.
Boston Medical Center's Dr. Sabrina Assoumou agrees. She said this moment should be used to continue vaccinating as many people as possible.
"I think we need to learn a little more, but it gives us an opportunity to encourage vaccination," she said. "We're going to keep seeing variants develop, but the way we prevent them from evolving is by vaccinating the U.S. and also vaccinating the world."
How common is deltacron in the U.S.?
All three doctors agreed that it is common to see a combined strain like deltacron when we are dealing with influenza viruses.
"If we think about HIV, which is the poster child for diversity in variation among viruses, whenever two different variants of HIV infect the same cell, there is an opportunity for there to be this kind of recombination." Kuritzkes said. "With influenza viruses, this is very common. We call it re-assortment, because influenzas has several different gene segments. It's a common mechanism with viral evolution."
Doron said that while there have been a few cases identified domestically, it's likely to be identified in other places throughout the country.
"I saw there have been a couple of isolates identified in the U.S., and like any new variant, once it's identified somewhere, it is probably in many more places than we know."
Assoumou agreed. "By the time we detect the new variant, it's already here under the radar, so we need to remain vigilant."