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Delta variant fuses cells to infect more efficiently: study

By Nancy Lapid

Jun 25 (.) – Compared to spike protein from earlier versions of the coronavirus, the worrying Delta variant penetrates lung cells better and can fuse them, researchers say.

“Spread by cell-to-cell fusion allows the virus to spread more rapidly in infected people and partially hide itself from the immune system,” said Markus Hoffman of the Georg-August University of Göttingen in Germany, one of the authors of a report published Wednesday in bioRxiv ahead of peer review. (https://bit.ly/3A2bGIH)

“For example, if a cell infected by the Delta variant is forced (by the spike protein) to fuse with a neighboring cell that is not yet infected, this allows the virus to enter the new cell much faster” than if Virus particles had to first be released from a previously infected cell, he explained.

By spreading through cell fusion, the virus reduces the risk of encountering cells of the immune system that could attack and inactivate it, Hoffman added.

These “abilities” could make the Delta variant – first identified in India and now circulating in many countries – more communicable, and the resulting disease more severe, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that although the Delta variant can evade antibodies, it is not completely resistant.

“It is possible that the Delta variant can infect vaccinated people (especially if only one of the two doses has been given so far), but the vaccination is very effective in preventing severe disease,” Hoffman said.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Edited in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)

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