Days after the experts declared Deltacron, a presumed hybrid coronavirus mutation discovered in a Cyprus lab, was most likely the result of lab contamination. The World Health Organization (WHO) clarified that the term is used when a person is infected with both the Delta and the Omicron variants of the Covid-19. It went on to say that Deltacron is “not a really thing.”
Deltacron made headlines this week after a researcher in Cyprus, Leondios Kostrikis, allegedly discovered a strain that combines both variants. Soon after, a Bloomberg report claimed that 25 Deltacron cases had been discovered in Cyprus. Kostrikis, who also serves as the head of Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that after analyzing samples from 25 patients, they discovered a strain with “Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genomes.”
“There are currently Omicron and Delta co-infections, and we discovered this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis explained in an interview with a TV channel. He also added that the strain had been named as “Deltacron.” Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead of Covid-19, stated during a discussion that Deltacron could be the result of “contamination” during the sequencing process. She said there have been numerous cases of people infected with both influenza and Covid-19 during this pandemic.
A recent systematic review looked at the prevalence of this coinfection with Covid-19 and influenza. They also looked at whether people had more severe disease, and the review found that coinfection did not increase the severity of the disease. Kostrikis previously stated that on January 7, his team uploaded the sequences of the 25 Deltacron to GISAID, an international database that tracks changes in the virus.
As news of Deltacron’s emergence spread, several scientists and health experts rushed to dismiss speculation about the emergence of another variant, claiming that its discovery was more likely due to lab contamination. In a series of tweets, Imperial College London virologist Tom Peacock stated that the Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination, noting that it lacks key features that would indicate the presence of a new variant.
Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases specialist and member of WHO’s Covid-19 Technical Team, was emphatic in her rejection of Deltacron, saying it “is not real and is likely due to sequencing artefact.” As the world grapples with new coinages implying the rise of virus mutations and transformations, she urged, “Let’s not merge infectious disease names and leave it to celebrity couples.”
Although terms like “Delmicron” and “Flurona” or “Florona” have circulated in the wake of the Omicron variant’s rise, experts have been quick to dispel misinformation about the pandemic. The term “Delmicron” referred to a surge caused by the Delta and Omicron variants, whereas “Florona” referred to the discovery of flu and Covid-19 in a single patient, a situation that experts had predicted.
However, Dr. Kostrikis, who announced Deltacron to the world, responded to experts who dismissed it as a result of lab contamination by stating that “findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is the result of a technical fault.” According to reports, he told Bloomberg in an emailed statement that the cases he found “indicate an evolutionary pressure on an ancestral strain to get these mutations and are not the outcome of a single recombination event.”
He cited the discovery of Deltacron in hospitalized patients as evidence that can be used to rule out the contamination theory. He also stated that at least one sequence from Israel submitted to a global database exhibits Deltacron genetic characteristics.