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What (Little) We Currently Know About the Fin-796H Variant

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  • What (Little) We Currently Know About the Fin-796H Variant

    What (Little) We Currently Know About the Fin-796H Variant


    I've been a little reluctant to write about the recently announced Fin-796H variant in Finland, simply because very little in the way of specifics has been released about this discovery.

    Beyond the initial press release (see below) from Vita Laboratories and the Institute of Biotechnology of the University of Helsinki, I've found nothing official.

    The most recent COVID update on Finland's Ministry of Health website - posted on Feb 18th, the day after the joint announcement of Fin-796H - only discusses variants in a broad sense, and does not mention this new variant:
    People are particularly concerned about the new variant identified in the UK spreading to Finland. So far, a total of 450 cases of the new variants have been confirmed in the country. Of these, 427 were cases of the UK variant and 22 of the South African variant. One travel-related case of the Brazilian variant, known as P.1, has been identified in Finland so far.

    Going down the twitter rabbit hole, I'm seeing a lot of emphasis placed on Fin-996H's supposed ability to evade PCR testing.

    As the following press release indicates, most PCR tests look at two or more pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome, and so a drop out on the N-gene target alone should not invalidate most tests.

    We've seen a similar situation with the S-gene target failure (SGTF) on the B.1.1.7 variant with the Thermo Fisher Scientific TaqPath COVID-19 PCR test, and in that case, it actually has helped in the identification of potential variants.

    So how big of a deal this turns out to be remains to be seen. As it is, this variant appears to have only been identified in one patient to date.

    So we can file this under interesting, not alarming, for now.

    The press release from Vita Laboratoriot Oy follows:

    Completely new coronavirus variant found in Finland - possibly difficult to detect by tests

    Vita Laboratoriot Oy and the Institute of Biotechnology of the University of Helsinki have found a previously unknown coronavirus variant in a corona sample from southern Finland. Mutations in the variant make it difficult to detect in at least one of the WHO-recommended PCR tests. The finding may have a significant impact on the detection of the spread of the disease.

    The SARS-CoV-2 virus, tentatively named the Fin-796H variant, has traits in both the British and South African variants.

    Several variants of the coronavirus have already been found in the world. Almost all of them are descendants of the British variant or the South African, Brazilian or Japanese variant. The variant now found in Finland differs from all these. Its inheritance has the same features as the previously widespread variants in the world, but it does not appear to belong to the evolution line of any of the previously known variants.

    - A new variant was detected in a sequencing study of the gene encoding the peak protein by Vita, Institute of Biotechnology, in analyzes performed by bioinformatics scientist Pia Laine. The sequencing method was chosen at the time so that all significant virus variants previously found in Finland could be detected quickly. The method also allows the detection of new variants, as now happened. Because the virus is constantly changing, finding new variants has only been a matter of time. However, the variant found now is different from expectations, because its inheritance does not resemble any single known variant, says Petri Auvinen , research director responsible for the sequencing unit of the Institute of Biotechnology .

    Certain mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome lead to increased infectivity and others affect the efficacy of vaccine protection. The Fin-796H variant has mutations of both types. In addition, the variant has a mutation in a region recognized by the WHO-recommended PCR method for the N gene.

    - One mutation in the variant prevents reliable detection of the virus by one of the methods recommended by the WHO last spring. This was observed when analyzing a sample from a patient with variant Covid-19 infection. Fortunately, Vita and probably also other laboratories performing coron diagnosis in Finland use methods that identify at least two gene regions of the virus. Thus, the infection will not go undetected anywhere in Finland.
    This may not be the case in other countries, so the finding may be of great international significance, says Sakari Jokiranta , Associate Professor of Clinical Microbiology at Vita Laboratories .

    It is not yet known whether the coronary heart disease caused by the variant is abnormal. Based on the mutations detected, the infectivity of the virus may be high, as in the British variant, and at the same time the vaccines may be ineffective in it, as in the South African variant. However, evidence of the properties of the variant will only be obtained when more information is available on its distribution and infection chains.

    - It is still too early to say how widely the new Fin-796H variant has spread and where it originally developed. It is unlikely that such a different variant would have developed in Finland, as there is very little disease here. In southern Finland, however, the variant may have spread, because at least in the PCR screening test performed in the HUS area to detect the British variant, the new variant looks, as far as we know, a conventional virus, not a variant. Fortunately, however, the virus itself is detected in these tests as well. There is no reason to panic, although the rapid transformation of the virus certainly worries both in terms of diagnostics and vaccination efficacy, Taru Meri, docent of microbiological immunology responsible for corona diagnostics at Vita Laboratories, reassures.
    All medical discussions are for educational purposes. I am not a doctor, just a retired paramedic. Nothing I post should be construed as specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem, see your physician.

  • #2
    Health authorities have identified the first case of the Brazilian variant, known as P.1. So far, a total of 450 cases of the new variants have been confirmed in the country, most of them in the Helsinki region.

    The number of Covid-19 cases have remained at the same "relatively high level across Finland," over the past four weeks, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said in its latest monitoring report on the epidemic.

    According to the assessment of the health authorities, about 2,300–2,700 new cases are reported every week. The number of people requiring hospital care has remained relatively stable, but the need for intensive care has increased slightly in the past few days. The weekly number of deaths from coronavirus is decreasing slowly.

    The epidemiological situation is characterised by great and rapidly changing regional differences. Especially in the capital region, the situation has deteriorated further. Between 1 and 14 February, the incidence of new cases during the 14-day period was 186 per 100,000 inhabitants in the Hospital District of Helsinki-Uusimaa, while in the whole country it was 91 per 100,000 inhabitants. In some places in the Greater Helsinki area, there is a backlog in tracing contacts of Covid-19 cases, the Health Ministry says.
    (bolding from article)
    "The only security we have is our ability to adapt."