The new British SARS-CoV-2 variant was detected in 46 of 53 genome-sequenced samples so far. Andreas Bergthaler from the Research Institute for Molecular Medicine (CeMM) of the Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) confirmed this to the APA on Monday evening. In addition, surprisingly high concentrations of the B.1.1.7. Variant were found in a sewage treatment plant in Salzburg. The values reached over 50 percent of the detected corona viruses there, according to the researcher.
“ The currently confirmed cases of B.1.1.7. In Austria show that – as in all of Europe – the highly contagious virus variant has also reached us”, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) commented on the final evidence on Monday evening Broadcast. It is all the more important to massively expand the search for the virus mutation, and “that we all adhere to the new distance rules, consistently and – whenever possible – wear an FFP2 mask and adhere to the hygiene measures”.
The results are based on an established whole genome sequencing that was established by the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and published in December (Popa A et al. Science Translational Medicine 2020). The 46 cases now secured by whole genome sequencing, in which the new mutation was detected, are mostly the suspected cases from Tyrol that became public last week, two more from Salzburg and a nursing home in Vienna, said Bergthaler. The virus variant from South Africa was not found among the confirmed cases.
The characteristic B.1.1.7.-mutation cluster was not found in samples from the Hermagor district (Carinthia) in which the new strain was also suspected. Overall, however, the results indicate that the mutation-specific search using the PCR method works relatively well, the scientist emphasized. The Ministry of Health said that these pre-tests (N501y-PCR) should now be rolled out nationwide after the British and South African versions. In the past few days, AGES pre-examined 776 positive PCR samples. The specific PCR has been tested across the board since the beginning of January. This method was able to identify almost 150 suspected cases last week, according to the ministry.
“An extremely high increase in this mutation already at the beginning of January” shows data “from at least one sewage treatment plant in Salzburg”, explained Bergthaler. The proportion of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses found there rose from zero percent to 16 percent over about ten days and finally to 54 percent in a sample from January 3. This finding was “astonishingly clear” in the scientists’ analyzes. This is the most surprising finding of the first more extensive investigations on the new variants, “which of course also raises questions,” said Bergthaler.
The re is also initial evidence of another sewage treatment plant in Salzburg, but otherwise such evidence has not been found in any other plant in Austria that has so far been examined more closely. Samples from the main sewage treatment plant in Vienna, for which preliminary tests also took place at the end of last week, could not be clearly determined for technical reasons.
Bergthaler emphasized that the data was still too thin to draw a reasonably reliable picture of the distribution across Austria or in individual regions from these analyzes, as these are “preselected suspected cases”. Somewhat representative samples are now needed. For example, it is planned to screen all samples that tested positive in a test line for the mutations. With such approaches, a more sustainable distribution pattern can probably be created.
According to the Ministry of Health, sequencing has been carried out in Austria since April in order to determine such changes due to mutations. According to the scientific report on B.1.1.7 on December 21, Austria has massively stepped up the complex sequencing. At the end of December, it was definitely possible to determine for the first time in five cases that four times the British variant and once the South African variant was present in Austria. A total of over 1,900 full sequencing operations have been carried out so far.