A new variant of the coronavirus, P681H, has been identified, this time in Nigeria, with a separate lineage from the variants found in the UK and in South Africa, John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said on Thursday.
"The one we are seeing in Nigeria, and this is based on very limited data yet, has the 501 mutation," Nkengasong added, referring to the variant termed 501.V2 identified in South Africa and announced by public health officials there on Dec. 18.
The P681H variant in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was found in two patient samples collected on Aug. 3 and on Oct. 9 in Osun state, according to a working research paper seen by The Associated Press.
Unlike the variant seen in the U.K., “we haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria vs. the U.K. may imply a reduced power to detect such changes,” the paper says.
Nigeria has over 81,000 cases of the coronavirus, and has suffered over 1,200 deaths. Africa as a whole has over 2.5 million confirmed cases.
The news comes as greater attention is paid to new strains of the virus, after early analyses of a mutated strain in the UK suggests it is 70 per cent more transmissible than the regular variant. This variant has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020) or as being part of the B.1.1.7 lineage.
A similar result was found in the new strain found in South Africa, which was initially believed to be more transmissible among young people. On Thursday, South Africa’s Ministry of Health said there was no evidence that the 501.v2 variant was more dangerous than the UK variant.
The N501Y mutation may allow the virus to better bind with human ACE2 receptors.
Genomic surveillance is necessary in order for countries to identify variations in the SARS-nCoV-2019 virus.
However, research is still ongoing on both these strains. Little is known about the ‘new’ Nigerian strain as well, including whether it is more transmissible or deadly. Nkengasong said there was no evidence that it was contributing to increased transmission in Nigeria, but added that the country does less genomic surveillance than the UK.
India too has stepped up its genomic surveillance in the aftermath of the UK scare, which prompted several countries to stop inbound flights from the UK.