The EVT Viral Genomics and Sequencing Lab at LSU Health Shreveport is first in the state to sequence and report that a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been detected in Louisiana. The new variant, B.1.630, was sequenced last week from two samples collected in Baton Rouge.
“Thanks to our many partnerships across the state, our EVT Viral Genomics and Sequencing Lab is able to sequence a large variety of samples which increases our chances of finding new variants. Genomic sequencing and the data this science provides is important to continuing our mission of public health surveillance so we can help best protect citizens of Louisiana throughout the duration of this pandemic,” said Dr. Chris Kevil, Vice Chancellor for Research at LSU Health Shreveport.
The B.1.630 variant was first detected in the United States earlier in March of 2021. It does not have variant classification or a Greek alphabet name like the commonly known Delta variant because it accounts for such a small proportion of samples sequenced. It does contain the E484Q mutation, which may help the virus escape the host immune system and lead to infection. Currently, there have only been 79 of these variants sequenced in the U.S., so the predominance is very low.
“Even though the predominance of this variant is low, we will continue to keep an eye on it and watch for any changes or if it starts to increase,” said Dr. Krista Queen, Director of Viral Genomics and Surveillance for the Center of Excellence for Emerging Viral Threats at LSUHS. “Any lineage or sub-lineage of SARS-CoV-2 with this E484Q mutation is watched because of the possibility of immune evasion. Some of the variants that do not have other mutations that increase transmissibility will eventually die out, but it is important to monitor any changes in abundance.”
While viruses that contain this mutation may be able to escape the immune response and resist antibodies, vaccination remains our best tool to prevent transmission and severe illness.
Mutations in viruses are not uncommon. RNA viruses, like the virus that cause COVID-19, are more prone to mutation because of their method of copying their genome. Vaccination does not prevent the virus from mutating; however, the virus does not get the opportunity to mutate in the case of infections prevented by vaccination. The higher the percentage of the population that is vaccinated, the fewer chances the virus gets to mutate into new lineages that could be potentially more transmissible or more harmful lineages.
To date, the EVT Viral Genomics and Sequencing Lab has completed genome sequencing for more than 7,000 COVID-19 test samples and is the top submitter in the state of Louisiana to the global GISAID database. LSUHS scientists are still seeing the B.1.617.2 (Delta) SARS-CoV-2 variant as the most prevalent in North Louisiana.
Learn more about the Center of Excellence for Emerging Viral Threats and LSUHS COVID-19 vaccination clinics at www.lsuhs.edu/covid19.