New coronavirus variant discovered in Taita Taveta, Kemri says

Kemri scientists
Kemri scientists. [Photo: courtesy]

Kenyan scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) have warned that there are 16 new variants of coronavirus in the country.

Scientists now say that the new coronavirus variants could be spreading silently.

In March 2020, Kemri said that Kenya had four variants of coronavirus which were discovered during the first sequencing. They have now mutated.

Of more concern, Daily Nation reports, is a variant picked in Taita Taveta County which scientists say has not been seen in any other part of the world.

Kemri lead researcher Dr Charles Agoti while tabling findings on Tuesday said not all the mutations are dangerous.

He added that his team is yet to establish how the mutations will affect the pattern of new COVID-19 cases in the country.

Kenya has in the past month recorded low numbers of daily infections compared to October and November.

Kemri says although this is the case, the new variant from Taita Taveta could be spreading silently.

Across the world, previous variants of coronavirus have mutated and two of the new mutations are quickly spreading globally.

“If you take the number of infections confirmed in Kenya and look at their genetic make-up, you will find that a huge number have two to three changes that don’t alter the overall behaviour of the virus,” Dr Agoti added.

A case in point is the new variant in the UK which is yet to be identified. It is reportedly spreading fast and more lethal.

It was also detected in South Africa. It has not been reported in any other African country.

Of the new variant discovered in Taita Taveta, Dr Agoti said that it increased the number of new infections.

The mutation of the virus according to experts takes in more protein which gives it a distinctive shape making it more transmissible.

Genetic changes to the virus make it resistant to treatment including vaccines. It is also becoming impossible to diagnose it without modification of diagnostic tools.

“If these changes occur in areas where diagnostic tools have been deployed, then laboratories would need to update them. Similarly, if these changes begin to affect vaccine efficacy, then the vaccines would need to be tweaked,” Dr Agoti stated.