Is ‘deltacron’ real? Why experts say reported coronavirus combo is likely a ‘scariant’

Reports of a combination of coronavirus delta and omicron variants called “deltacron” from Cyprus have caused concern as some experts doubt it’s real.
Reports of a combination of coronavirus delta and omicron variants called “deltacron” from Cyprus have caused concern as some experts doubt it’s real. AP

Did coronavirus variants delta and omicron form a “super variant” called “deltacron”?

It’s likely you’ve heard the name by now, but experts are saying the reported COVID-19 variant combination is likely a “scariant.”

“#Omicron and #Delta did NOT form a super variant,” wrote Krutika Kuppali, who’s a part of the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical team, on Twitter on Jan. 9.

Concerns about a potential new variant came after a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, Leondios Kostrikis, said his team found 25 cases of a combination of “omicron and delta co-infections” overseas, Bloomberg reported on Jan. 8. They named what they found “deltacron.”

The lab sequences of the cases were provided to the international GISAID database on Jan. 7, according to Bloomberg.

Since then, many experts have raised doubts about the findings.

Kuppali said it’s “likely sequencing artifact (lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen),” meaning traces of the delta variant somehow mixed with omicron in the lab, not through natural means.

Similarly to Kuppali, a virologist from the Imperial Department of Infectious Disease in the U.K. suspects deltacron is likely a lab “contamination” rather than a combination of delta and omicron, Tom Peacock wrote on Twitter on Jan. 8.

“The Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination,” Peacock said.

In a separate tweet addressing the matter, Peacock wrote “this is not really related to ‘quality of the lab’ or anything similar - this literally happens to every sequencing lab occasionally!,” on Jan. 9.

Deltacron was deemed a “scariant” by physician Eric Topol, who added that it’s “one less thing to worry about,” in a Jan. 8 Twitter statement.

The original researcher Kostrikis has responded to doubts about his findings and said no “technical error” was made, according to Bloomberg, adding his team’s findings “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”

However, another expert from Louisiana State University Health Shreveport believes a “100%” error was made by researchers in Cyprus, they told Newsweek.

Associate microbiology and immunology professor Jeremy Kamil described the findings that led to deltacron as an “innocent” error, according to the outlet. “It’s great [the Cyprus researchers] are doing genomic surveillance—the media if anything are just as responsible or more for generating alarm.”

One virologist addressed how combinations of virus variants are “possible” while speaking with France24.

“It is still too early to draw conclusions [on ‘Deltacron’],” Paris-Descartes University professor emeritus Christine Rouzioux told the outlet.

“First we must verify the sequencing and then analyse the results on a cluster of cases. But in theory, the combination is perfectly possible.”

In the U.S., another expert, the director & chair for the nursing department at Texas A&M, said “don’t panic” about deltacron, according to KWTX.

“There have been some questions if this could be a lab contamination, but we know that covid is really good at making new variants so it stays in the business of making us sick so we are going to have to wait and see,” Amy Mersiovsky told KWTX.

In the U.K., Jeffrey Barrett, who’s in charge of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at Wellcome Sanger Institute, said he’s “almost” certain that deltacron is “not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,” on Jan. 10, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ultimately, many experts are doubtful of the findings reported by Kostrikis while some believe that with time, a clearer understanding of deltacron will come — but overall there’s no reason to be concerned at this time.

The deltacron confusion comes as the U.S. has had more than 60.2 million COVID-19 cases in total, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Omicron infections made up 98.3% of positive COVID-19 cases in the U.S. recorded between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, the CDC’s variant proportion data shows.

In comparison, the delta variant was responsible for 1.7% of those cases.

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This story was originally published January 11, 2022 4:09 PM.

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the southeast and northeast while based in New York. She’s an alumna of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she’s written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and more.
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