Deltacron: the New ‘Scariant’?

Image taken by Kate Geraghty

By Amanda Ojeda and Shriya Gandham

Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic we have seen many variants including Delta, Lambda and the Omicron.. The Delta variant is highly symptomatic compared to the previous strains, as studies show that patients infected with the Delta variant are more likely to be hospitalized than patients infected with Alpha or the original virus strain. Omicron, the most recent one, is highly contagious. In fact, the covid rates in the US are at an all time high due to Omicron as 1 million individuals have tested positive in a single day. Well, recently, there have been alleged sightings of a new “variant” named Deltacron. Now, before you enter a state of profound panic, let us reassure you that there is no cause for concern.

On January 7th, scientists from Cyprus reported a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which was supposedly a cross between the previous Delta and Omicron variants, hence the name Deltacron. Cyprus currently has one of the highest COVID-19 rates of transmission in Europe. Out of the reported 25 cases, 11 have been hospitalized. 

Many experts have questioned this finding stating how unlikely this recombination is and thus, suspecting lab contamination. So what exactly is Deltacron, experts speculate that the so-called “variant” that became viral in a timespan of only a few days, is a mere lab mixup. They suspect that it was a technical error, most likely a contamination of Omicron sequences in a Delta sample. Contaminations such as these are sequencing lab errors and are not due to malpractice, a large concern that arose from the outbreak. However, various samples identified as Deltacron were processed in more than one country, significantly decreasing lab contamination as a possible origin.

WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted “Let’s not use words like deltacron…These words imply a combination of viruses/variants & this is not happening. ‘Deltacron’ is likely contamination during sequencing…”. Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated occurrence. COVID-19 disinformation has been present since day one, one example being the recent “flurona” virus, a combination of the flu and the coronavirus.

So, as of this moment, there is no need to generate anymore Transformer like names. But this Deltacron lab mixup has posed a serious question; is there a possibility that variants could recombine in the future? Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University in Atlanta, said the mixing of genetic material belonging to the delta and omicron variants is possible as “Recombination can occur in coronaviruses.” As delta and omicron are both in circulation among the population, dual infection could possibly lead to this recombination. However, the chances are still very unlikely.