Original article from Kent Live
Since first emerging in Peru, the new Lambda variant has spread to at least 30 different countries.
Officials in Latin America have been left concerned due to the new COVID-19 strain's "unusual" set of mutations.
The variant, formerly known as C.37, has been discovered in a number of locations across the UK.
Since late June, Public Health England (PHE) have been treating this as a "variant under investigation," as the Mirror reports.
Scientists are racing to work out whether it is more or less transmissible than other strains of the virus.
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They are also determining whether it is more resistant to the antibodies provided by vaccination or previous COVID infection.
Its presence in the UK is only emerging as the Delta variant continues to account for the vast majority of cases.
Here's everything you need to know about the new strain.
What is the Lambda variant?
Scientists have been led to investigate whether it has the potential to be more infectious than other strains, due to mutations in the spike protein.
The efficiency of vaccines against the variant is also being explored by researchers.
It is, however, considered a 'variant of interest' by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The UK's Wellcome Sanger Institute's Covid-19 Genomics Initiative director Jeffrey Barrett told media the phenomenon has made testing the virus' virulence hard to do.
The top scientist also worried a lack of gene sequencing labs in South America had allowed the variant to spread undetected from its original source.
Where did it begin?
The Lambda variant was first identified in Peru towards the end of 2020.
The strain is now widespread across South America and the United States.
Despite appearing in other parts of the world, it has done so in much smaller numbers so far.
The variant now accounts for more than 80% of cases in Peru, according to reports, and has begun emerging in the UK and Europe.
By the end of June, Lambda had been detected in: the UK, Chile, the US, Peru, Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Ecuador, Israel, Colombia, France, Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Netherlands, Aruba, Portugal, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey, Australia, Curacao, and Zimbabwe.
Is it more infectious?
According to PHE, there is currently limited evidence on how Lambda's genomic changes affect people.
It was noted, however, that there is currently no evidence to suggest it caused a more severe illness or was more resistant to jabs.
Pablo Tsukayama, a doctor in molecular microbiology in the country's capital Lima, told the FT that when medics first noted the variant in December, it accounted for one in 200 samples, and by March that had soared to about half of all samples.
That would suggest its rate of transmission is higher than other variants circulating in the country, he said.
But Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) regional advisor on emerging viral diseases, Jairo Mendez, said at the end of June there were still questions on just how rapidly the new mutation spreads.
The variant also accounts for around one-third of all cases in Chile.
“At the moment there’s no evidence to suggest it’s more aggressive than other variants,” Mr Mendez told the newspaper.
“It’s possible that it has a higher rate of contagion but more work needs to be done on it.”
Early research is said to have shown promising signs of at least two jabs' strength against the mutation.
A pre-print study this week from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine found the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are effective against Lambda.
How many Lambda cases have been found in the UK and where?
A total of eight confirmed and probable Lambda cases have been discovered in the UK – all of which were found in England, according to the latest PHE update.
Six confirmed cases had been traced.
These were picked up between February 23 and June 7.
Four cases were identified London, one in England's South West and one in the West Midlands.
No deaths had been reported within 28 days of any of those cases.