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R.1 COVID-19 Variant: Everything You Need To Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that a new COVID-19 variant has been detected in Kentucky, US where the variant has affected 46 residents and healthcare staff [1]. This is the first time the COVID-19 variant has been detected in the US.

R.1 COVID-19 Variant: Everything We Know So Far

The WHO has announced the Delta variant as the most prominent strain in the world, surpassing other mutations of SARS-CoV-2. Amidst this comes the reports of a different variant, of which we will look into below:

1. Detection:

  • The R.1 COVID-19 variant is not new and was first detected in Japan in 2020.
  • In the United States, R.1 infections peaked in May 2021 and were last detected in early August 2021.
  • It has been detected in 35 countries and in two U.S. territories.
  • The variant was detected in a Kentucky nursing home where an outbreak was reported in March.
  • 83 residents and 116 healthcare workers, 26 residents and 20 works tested positive for COVID-19.
  • The samples were tested and through genomic testing, the R.1 variant was found [2].
  • The R.1 variant is not on the WHO list of concern or interest.

2. Mutations:

  • The CDC noted that the R.1 variant has 'mutations of importance.' That is, the mutations of the R.1 variant are associated with changes in the function of the virus (how it spreads and affects individuals) and could affect people differently than the original version of the virus.
  • The R.1 variant shares a common origin with all variants of interest or concern [3].
  • The R.1 variant has relatively few mutations in the Spike protein in proportion to mutations reported in other variants.
  • This mutation may be more likely to cause breakthrough infections than past strains.
  • Out of the mutations of the R.1 variant, a mutation termed D614G mutation, demonstrates evidence of increasing virus transmissibility, suggesting that it could be more infectious than previous COVID-19 strains [4].
  • Consequently, the R.1 variant may increase "transmission, replication, and immune suppression."

3. Symptoms and transmissibility:

  • All the infected people showed symptoms and one vaccinated and two unvaccinated patients died.
  • Experts added that there wouldn't be any different symptoms from this strain.
  • It may cause breakthrough infections more common.
  • This version of the coronavirus never accounted for more than 1 per cent of worldwide cases, even at its peak.

4. Vaccination:

  • 90 per cent of the nursing home residents and 52 per cent of staff had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, overall, 25.4 per cent of the residents and 7.1 per cent of the staff were infected.
  • As this mutation has the same mutations found with the B and G variants, it could potentially affect more people who are vaccinated due to the increased resistance to antibodies [5].
  • R.1 contains the W152L (found in Delta strain) mutation in a region of the spike protein that is the target of antibodies that could reduce their effectiveness [6].
  • Data suggest the COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against R.1, and four (possible) reinfections, which shows some evidence of limited or waning natural immunity to this variant [7].

5. Safety measures:

  • Experts added that all the same COVID-19 safety measures should be followed.
  • They also added that the best way to keep yourself safe from any strain of SARS-Cov-2 is to get fully vaccinated and to continue practising COVID-19 safety guidelines [8].
  • Protecting yourself from getting infected is one of the most effective methods for preventing the virus from continually mutating.

Researchers added, "attack rates were three to four times as high among unvaccinated residents and healthcare professionals as among those who were vaccinated" [9].

Is The R.1 Variant Concerning?

Not likely. The general public should not have to be concerned about the new R.1 variant. "R.1, although soldering around, is not really competing with the Delta variant in any serious way," said one of the CDC experts [10]. While any new variant that emerged can pose a risk, according to scientists, it is highly unlikely that the R.1 variant will overtake the Delta variant as the most severe or transmissible mutation of the SARS-Cov-2 virus [11].

It was pointed out that as the R.1 variant has 'mutations of importance,' it could affect people differently than the original version of the virus, making it critical for researchers to gather an understanding of the properties of the variant. It is important to study this variant, its response to vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, and its spread.

In addition, the variants Eta, Iota and Kappa were recently downgraded from being 'variants of concern' to 'variants under monitoring' by the WHO after their circulation was hindered by other strains [12].

On A Final Note...

Some reports suggest that the R.1 variant has appeared in 47 states, but since R.1 is not being actively monitored by the CDC, there is a lack of clarity on the same.

Health experts and scientists advise people to continue following the COVID-19 guidelines such as getting vaccinated, social distancing, washing hands regularly, double masking, sanitizing and staying indoors whenever possible.

Story first published: Saturday, September 25, 2021, 11:36 [IST]