Story at a glance

  • The AY.4.2 variant, or “delta plus,” has accounted for about 6 percent of sequenced coronavirus cases in England in the week beginning Sept. 27.
  • U.K. health officials say the variant is “on an increasing trajectory.”
  • Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, said the strain could be about 10 percent more transmissible than the original delta variant but is unlikely behind the recent spike in cases in the U.K.

Researchers are keeping their eye on a mutation of the highly contagious delta variant that appears to be spreading in the United Kingdom. 

The AY.4.2 variant, or “delta plus,” has accounted for about 6 percent of sequenced coronavirus cases in England in the week beginning Sept. 27 and is “on an increasing trajectory,” according to the U.K. Health Security Agency. Delta continues to be the dominant variant in the country. 

The U.K. has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, recently reporting the highest number of new cases in three months last week.

Health officials said the variant is now being monitored and assessed, although it is not yet considered a variant of concern or variant under investigation. The delta plus variant is less widespread in the U.S.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, said the strain could be about 10 percent more transmissible than the original delta variant but is unlikely behind the recent spike in cases in the U.K.


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“As such, it feels worthwhile keeping an eye on it,” Balloux tweeted. 

“Even if A.Y.4.2 is genuinely ~10% more transmissible, it does not explain much of the recent case rises in the UK. Assuming 10% higher transmissibility and a freq of 10% only translates in 1% additional cases per ~5 day viral generation interval,” he said. 

In the U.S. former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called for “urgent” research into delta plus. 

“We need urgent research to figure out if this delta plus is more transmissible, has partial immune evasion?” Gottlieb tweeted Sunday

“The variant has been in the UK since about July, but it has been slowly increasing in prevalence. There’s no clear indication that it’s considerably more transmissible, but we should work to more quickly characterize these and other new variants. We have the tools,” Gottlieb said. 

The former FDA commissioner said there was not a “cause for immediate concern” but emphasized the need to identify and characterize new variants. 


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Published on Oct 19, 2021