VARIANT COVID. “Centaur”, a new variant of Omicron, is concentrating research and worrying scientists. Discovered in India in May 2022, this mutation of Covid-19 has not yet been detected in France but is spreading at high speed.
It is the youngest of the large family of Covid-19 variants. Centaur, or BA.2.75 mutation from Omicron, is the variant placed “under surveillance” by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on July 8, 2022 and which scientists are looking into. Appeared in India at the beginning of May, the new variant worries virologists because of the speed with which it is spreading. Epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet even described it on July 10 on LCI as a “candidate to fuel a new wave in the fall”. Early observations suggest the virus is spreading faster than the already extremely transmissible BA.5 variant. The Centaur variant has already been detected in some of our European neighbors such as the United Kingdom, Luxembourg or Germany and is also circulating in the United States, Canada or Australia and now in Japan according to RTL. France is still spared by the latest mutation of the coronavirus but the arrival of Centaur in France could only be a matter of time according to the Belgian biostatistician Geert Molenberghs who explained in the columns of the newspaper newsblad that “after spreading rapidly in India, it should be seen spreading all over the world at high speed in this holiday season”.
In addition to its ability to spread rapidly, the Centaur variant of Covid-19 worries virologists by the large number of mutations it presents and which are all signs of a potential evolution of the virus. “This could mean that he had the chance to develop an advantage over an already successful viral line” analyzed Stephen Griffin, virologist at the University of Leeds in The Guardian. The World Health Organization (WHO) is attentive to the new variant but remains cautious about the dangerousness of the virus. The organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, indicated on July 5 that the data and samples are still insufficient to assess the gravity of the Centaur variant.
Is the Centaur variant of Covid-19 circulating in France?
No sign of the BA.2.75 variant, called Centaure, has yet been seen in France. But in just two months – the mutation was discovered in India in May – the Omicron sub-variant has spread to around ten countries around the world, including some in Europe: the United Kingdom or Germany. These countries present a situation similar or close to that of France with a majority BA.5 variant, but the number of cases in these territories seems to have experienced a resurgence since the arrival of the Centaur mutation. Although it is still too early to draw conclusions, the imminent spread of the Centaur variant in France is a possibility that should not be ruled out.
What are the particularities of the Centaur variant of Covid-19?
The Centaur variant has revealed few of its secrets. Two months after the BA.2.75 mutation was first identified, scientists don’t yet have solid data on the virus, but observations suggest the variant’s ease and speed in spreading and possibly increased transmissibility. The hypothesis remains to be confirmed but is defended by the Austrian geneticist Ulrich Elling who indicated on Twitter at the beginning of July that it was “probable that we are dealing with a variant which is spreading rapidly and already widely”. On the dangerousness of the Centaur variant, it is still impossible to answer according to the World Health Organization, which is closely monitoring the new version of Covid-19.
However, virologists have noticed a large number of mutations in the Centaur variant, particularly in the Spike protein, which is responsible for the virus’s ability to penetrate and therefore infect human cells. “It is not so much the exact mutations, but rather the number and the combinations” that worry, specified Tom Peacock, virologist at Imperial College London at Guardian. And to add: “It is difficult to predict the effect of so many mutations appearing together. This gives the virus a somewhat “generic” property where the sum of the parts could be worse than the parts individually”. On July 10, the professor of epidemiology Arnaud Fontanet estimated on LCI that the Centaur variant of Covid-19 is “a candidate to fuel a new wave in the fall”.
What are the symptoms of the Centaur variant?
The WHO considers it too early to know if the Centaur variant is more severe than the previous mutations of Covid-19. A speech whose main lines were taken up by Doctor Indrajit Hazarika, the WHO representative in Mauritius, on July 11 on Radio More reports the Mauritian news site Defimedia. The specialist, however, considered “probable that the infection caused by this sub-variant is mild or asymptomatic”. However, in the same interview he noted the rapid increase in the number of hospitalizations for Covid-19 since the arrival of the Centaur variant.