Original article from Kent Live
Scientists investigating the new 'Kent variant' have revealed more about their attempts to establish the identity of 'patient zero'.
The discovery of a new more transmissible and more deadly variant of coronavirus known as B117 was first announced in December 2020.
It has since spread to over 100 countries in every corner of the world, with many currently experiencing massive surges in infections.
B117 is now known in many of those places as the Kent variant, because it was here in the Garden of England that it first spread on a significant scale.
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Back in November, infections surged in Swale and Thanet despite the national lockdown in place at the time.
Medway would soon join them and then the rest of Kent and the rest of the South East.
As revealed by KentLive earlier this year, the first known example of B117 is thought to have been traced back to a person who lived "near Canterbury" who provided a sample on September 20.
But scientists are convinced this person was not "patient zero".
They believe that because of the number of mutations – thought to be at least 23 – it must have started with a significant event.
This could mean it was imported from a foreign country, or jumped across from an animal, or – and this is the theory most favoured by scientists – that it came from an immunosuppressed person.
This means it circulated inside someone whose immune system was compromised by something like cancer, before then spreading to someone else.
Clinical trials have witnessed coronavirus mutating fast in immunosuppressed people before.
However, scientists speaking to the Guardian recently revealed the first sample found in Kent was not such a person.
Dr Christina Atchison, consultant epidemiologist, who heads the rapid investigation unit at Public Health England, said: “They hadn’t had links to immunocompromised people, hadn’t travelled anywhere unusual or had contact with someone who had.
“They weren’t farmers or vets.”
They also believe that 'patient zero' may now never be found.
That's because prior to the discovery of the Kent variant, virus samples were destroyed after a few days.
Laboratories are now asked to store them for at least a month, but it's too late to go back to any previous positive coronavirus samples.
Dr Atchison later worked with another colleague, Dr Meera Chand, looking more closely at the genomic sequences of positive samples from Kent.
If you caught COVID-19 late in 2020, this now world-famous team of scientists may well have looked at a sample from your body.
Chand would soon after tell the Government's Nervtag group about the "big cluster of weird-looking genomes" they had seen in Kent, which would soon ruin everyone's Christmas.
Another expert, Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformatics, said: “That meeting is legendary now, in our minds at least, because it was the start of an incredibly hectic week of analysis and report writing. We had found something that turned out to be very important.
"We found more than half the cases were in one cluster, which was like: ‘Woah. Why has that happened? surely not all the people of Kent have gone to an illegal rave?’”
A group of scientists, know as the Tuesday group, then presented a paper in which Erik Volz from Imperial College London analysed the variant’s growth rate.
It wasn’t the number of cases that was worrying, he said: it was the rate at which the numbers were growing.
The discovery would lead to the strict lockdown measures we are only starting to come out of – while other countries are experiencing their own surges of B117 for the first time.
Unfortunately, scientists are now clear that we may never know exactly how it all started.