Health Ministry says new Delta mutation AY4.2 appears to be 15% more infectious

However, subvariant first identified in UK not believed to be deadlier or more resistant to vaccines; first cases found in Israel last week

What is the 'AY.4.2' variant? (AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)
What is the 'AY.4.2' variant? (AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)

Israel’s Health Ministry said that the recently discovered subvariant of the Delta coronavirus, known as AY4.2, appears to be slightly more contagious, but no more deadly, than the original variant.

The first case of AY4.2 in Israel was discovered last week in a child who entered Israel from Moldova.

On Saturday, Channel 13 quoted the ministry as saying that initial investigations found that the new subvariant was 15% more contagious than Delta. However, it did not appear to be deadlier and was not evading vaccines. Delta itself is several times more contagious than the original coronavirus.

The ministry said it had only found six cases of AY4.2 imported from overseas and that it had not yet been detected spreading locally. As such no new precautions were necessary at the time.

The AY4.2 subvariant was identified by British scientists last month.

Because it isn’t currently considered a variant of interest or concern, it has not yet been officially named after a letter of the Greek alphabet, like the other worrisome variants.

Nevertheless, scientists are monitoring it to see if it might spread more easily or be more deadly than previous versions of the coronavirus. In a recent report, UK officials said the variant makes up 6% of all analyzed COVID-19 cases in the country and is “on an increasing trajectory.”

Magen David worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test from Israelis, at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (( Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The variant has two mutations in the spike protein, which helps the coronavirus invade the body’s cells. These changes have also been seen in other versions of the virus since the pandemic started, but haven’t gone very far, said Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London.

The Delta variant remains “by far the most dominant variant in terms of global circulation” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, at a public session this week.

“Delta is dominant, but delta is evolving,” she said, noting that the more the virus circulates, the more chances it has to mutate.

The UN health agency is currently tracking 20 variations of the Delta variant. The AY.4.2 is “one to watch because we have to continuously keep an eye on how this virus is changing,” said Van Kerkhove.

In the US, the Delta variant accounts for nearly all COVID-19 cases. The newer AY4.2 Delta variant has been spotted “on occasion,” but it’s not yet a concern, health officials said.

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