The World Health Organization is now closely tracking a subvariant of the delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to evaluate whether it is more infectious than the original delta.
The agency is also seeking to determine whether the subvariant called AY.4.2 is more resistant to the human antibodies that fight the virus, according to its weekly epidemiological update.
“Epidemiological and laboratory studies are ongoing to assess if AY.4.2 confers anyadditional phenotypic impacts (e.g. a change in transmissibility or a decrease in the ability of antibodies to block the virus),” said the update.
The AY.4.2 subvariant has been detected in 42 countries, with 93% reported from the U.K., where it accounted for about 6% of all delta cases recorded in the week starting Oct. 3. The WHO is currently tracking about 20 variations of the delta variant.
Overall, new cases of COVID rose by 4% in the week through Oct. 24 to just over 2.9 million, said the WHO. Europe accounted for 57% of new cases and was the only region showing such an increase. Russia remains the European country with the highest death toll and set yet another one-day mortality record on Thursday, when 1,159 people died. The country has now been shut down for a week to try to contain the spread, which is mostly due to a very low vaccination rate, an issue facing neighboring countries as well as much of Central and Eastern Europe.
The WHO again warned of the danger of failing to get vaccine supply to Africa, where only five countries are expected to meet the goal of inoculating 40% of their populations by year-end. The problem is expected to be exacerbated by a shortage of syringes.
“The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent. Early next year COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.
There was promising medical news from a study that found a cheap generic antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19, as the Associated Press reported.
Researchers tested the pill used for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.
“If WHO recommends this, you will see it widely taken up,” said study co-author Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, adding that many poor nations have the drug readily available. “We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved.”
The pill, called fluvoxamine, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck’s /zigman2/quotes/209956077/composite MRK -3.79% experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Some experts predict various treatments eventually will be used in combination to fight the coronavirus disease. The study involved nearly 1,500 Brazilians, and the results were published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health . They were so strong that independent experts monitoring the study recommended stopping it early because the results were already clear.
China has placed a third city under lockdown to combat a new outbreak of cases, putting about 6 million people under orders to stay at home, the South China Morning Post reported. Beijing is seeking zero COVID cases ahead of the Winter Olympics.
More than 100 million Indian people failed to show up for their second vaccine dose, the Guardian reported, citing official data that are raising concerns of a resurgence of the virus. Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s health minister, is urging states to address the issue. From next month, he said, health workers will make door-to-door visits to find truants.