May 21, 2022

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

John Bader
21st January, 2022

“Stop trying to make “Deltacron” happen, it’s not going to happen!”

Over the course of the past month, “Omicron”, COVID’s latest confirmed variant has been gradually spreading throughout the world, becoming the dominant variant in multiple countries like the UK and USA. 

Alongside Omicron, misinformation of a possible “Delta x Omicron” hybrid strain, “Deltacron” has been circulating in the media. The alleged variant is said to be a genetic combination of Omicron, the current dominant variant, and Delta, its precedent. This recombinant variant has been discovered in a lab in Cyprus.

While it is possible for variants of the same virus to genetically combine, it is rare. Scientists analyzing “Deltacron” believe it is unlikely that Omicron and Delta have combined, and claim that the reported incident is merely the result of lab contamination. 

“The Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination,” tweeted Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London. “Finally it’s worth adding… much of what we understand about what makes Delta more transmissible/infectious, Omicron already possesses  – it’s currently unclear to me what Omicron could have to gain from Delta (with what we currently know at least)” he added, explaining the unlikeliness of the incident. 

A Twitter thread on “Deltacron” by Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London

Likewise, Jeffrey Barrett, the head of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute further explains that the reported mutations were found on a part of the genome that is vulnerable to error in certain sequencing procedures. 

Another piece of misinformation that has made it to the media is a hybrid virus between COVID-19 and Influenza, calling the alleged recombinant “Flurona” or “Flurone”. The unverified reports of the new virus were soon dismissed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

A tweet on the implications of using unverified variant and virus names by Maria Van Kerkhove, and epidemiologist at WHO

In fact, people may simultaneously test positive for both COVID-19 and the flu, and experience the symptoms of both viruses, but they cannot combine. 

“Let’s not use words like Deltacron, flurona or flurone. Please,” tweeted Maria van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the WHO, “These words imply combination of viruses/variants and this is not happening.”

Circulating such mis and disinformation pieces may cause unnecessary panic and confusion among the public. Likewise, spreading such pieces might congest the media and dilute the effect of verified reports by official bodies.

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Takeaway: Read the news carefully, look for statements and reports by official bodies, and wear your mask when necessary, the pandemic is not over yet!

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John Bader is the News Editor for I,Science and is studying an MSc in Science Media Production at Imperial College London