A new Covid variant feared to be the world's deadliest is now killing one in 10 patients as it ravages parts of South America and spreads across the globe, it has been reported.
The first documented case of the Lambda variant was found in Peru, where it now makes up more than 80% of all cases, and six cases have been recorded in the UK, government figures released this week have shown.
World Health Organisation scientists have been left puzzled by the variant after it spread to nearly 30 countries in the last four weeks and was classified as a Variant of Interest on June 14.
Professor Pablo Tsukayama of Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru, says the strain has exploded in Peru, suggesting "its rate of transmission is higher than any other variant".
"With 187,000 dead and the highest mortality rates in the world, we are the country that has struggled most when it comes to the coronavirus," Tsukayama told DW news. "Therefore, it is probably no wonder that the new variant has gotten its start here."
The claims have been backed up by a separate report by Jeff Barrett from London's Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Welcome Sanger Institute.
"Lambda has a unique pattern of seven mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to infect human cells. Researchers are particularly intrigued by one mutation called L452Q, which is similar to the L452R mutation to contribute to the high infectiousness of the Delta variant," Barrett told the Financial Times.
Public Health England recently reported a handful of cases caused by Lambda have been detected in the country and recognised it as having "a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralising antibodies".
On June 23, PHE designated Lambda as a variant under investigation "due to international expansion and several notable mutations".
However, it said more studies were needed and there is currently no evidence it causes more severe disease or rendered vaccines less effective.
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A study conducted by a team from the University of Chile who studied the virus in local healthcare workers, who received two doses of China's CoronaVac jab, suggests Lambda is more infectious than the Brazilian and UK mutations.
They wrote in a paper, which is yet to be peer-reviewed: "Our data show for the first time that mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant confer escape to neutralising antibodies and increased infectivity.
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"It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don't yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta."
Cases have emerged around South and Central America and the United States, and very small numbers have been traced in parts of Europe, according to the health body's tally.
The delta variant, which first emerged in India, remains the dominant strain in the UK.
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