Woman who caught new Covid variant in UK reveals symptoms to watch out for

A BRIT who caught one of the new Covid variants has revealed the symptoms she experienced.

The woman, who didn't want to be named, tested positive for the E484K mutation of the original coronavirus strain in January.

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So far, cases with the spontaneous mutation – named VUI202102/01 – have been limited to a cluster of 55 people in Liverpool.

The woman said the early signs were different from the classic ones people are told to look out for, such as a new, persistent cough and fever.

She told the Liverpool Echo she first started feeling unwell with symptoms of the common cold.

It was after this that she lost her sense of taste and smell – a sign that was identified as a Covid symptom last year.

She said: "I had a streaming cold and then lost my sense of taste and smell in January.

"There was talk of us having the South African variant, but it's now said to be this mutation."

'WORRYING'

The woman said she was sent an antibody test kit and asked to provide blood samples for analysis.

"It was worrying to not be in the picture of what I had for quite some time, and having to push for information," she added.

Her sample was among others to be sent for genomic testing, which was when scientists discovered the new mutation of the original virus.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises government, have identified it as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI).

Regional health officials said the mutation detected in Liverpool was part of cases among staff at Liverpool Women's Hospital last month.

A cluster of an initial five cases was detected on January 10 among some staff who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral.

What are the different Covid variants in the UK?

SINCE the Covid pandemic erupted last year, there have been various different variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus detected across the world.

As the virus replicates inside human cells it occasionally makes small copying errors or mutations.

If enough distinct mutations are made and passed on, the result can be new variants.

While scientists say they are normal and were expected, some are more concerning than others. That's because some mutations – like the E484K mutation – can make vaccines less effective. The mutation affects the spike protein, the bit of the virus that allows it to bind to human cells and infect them.

Here we outline the different Covid variants that have so far been detected in the UK:

  • The original Covid virus – this is the variant that was widely circulating in 2020
  • The Kent variant (B.1.1.7) – this became the dominant version of the virus just before Christmas
  • The South African variant (B.1.351) – this is a variant that cropped up in South Africa and has now been traced in the UK – both in people who have and haven't travelled to the country. It features the E484K mutation which helps the virus evade vaccines
  • The Bristol variant (VOC 202102/02) – this developed from the Kent strain, and now (unlike the dominant Kent strain) features the E484K mutation, helping it escape vaccines too
  • The Liverpool variant – this developed from the original Covid virus, and (unlike the original) features the E484K mutation.
  • The B.1.525 variant – first detected in Nigeria it has emerged in 10 countries including the UK, and features the E484K mutation

Up to 58 cases have now been identified in the Liverpool City region, Warrington, Preston and West Lancashire.

Extra surge testing has not been rolled out in the region because it's not deemed a variant of concern, like the South African or Brazilian variants.

A spokeswoman for Public Health England said: "NHS Test and Trace currently activates surge testing in areas where Variants of Concern are identified.

"The variant identified in Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Preston and West Lancashire has recently been classified a 'variant under investigation' (VUI) by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

"Specialist public health teams are following up all cases with this variant and are monitoring the situation closely.

"Currently surge testing is not being activated for VUIs, but this remains under close review and local authorities continue to target existing testing resources in areas where cases of the VUI have been found.”

'EVADES VACCINES'

Experts are worried about the E484K mutation because it is believed to reduce protection provided by current vaccines.

It is the same change that is causing the most concern in the South African and Brazilian variants.

Cambridge University research found the Pfizer jab is likely to be less effective against the E484K mutation.

Lab tests show ten times more antibodies were needed to prevent infection from these variants.

But the vaccine was good at neutralising the Kent strain behind the majority of current cases.

Lead researcher Professor Ravi Gupta said the race was now on to develop booster jabs.

Prof Gupta, who also sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said updated immunisations could be available this autumn.

He told The Sun last month: “We need to be looking down the road now, and we know what to do with our next set of vaccines.

"The next generation of vaccines need to have these key mutations engineered into them.

“It shouldn’t be too hard. It should take six months to sort this out, so that we have them before next winter.”

KENT VARIANT SYMPTOMS

Meanwhile, research has also shown that the Covid variant which first emerged in the UK may also have different symptoms to the original.

The Office for National Statistics – which tracks the outbreak by swabbing thousands of people in the UK every week – recently published a report into the characteristics of the Kent strain.

The preliminary findings were based on the swab tests of people in private households in England between November 15 to January 16, and their self-reported symptoms.

The most common symptom of the Kent variant, reported by 35 per cent of people who tested positive, was a cough.

Close behind was fatigue and muscle weakness, affecting 32 per cent of cases, and headache with 31 per cent.

Muscle aches were reported by a quarter of those testing positive for the Kent strain, followed by a sore throat (22 per cent) and fever (22 per cent).

A loss of taste or a loss of smell was reported by only 15 per cent of cases each.

In comparison, the symptoms most common in those testing positive for original coronavirus strains were a headache (30 per cent), fatigue and weakness (29 per cent), a cough (28 per cent) and muscle pain (22 per cent).

Loss of taste or smell was far more common in this group – each symptom was reported by 19 per cent of cases.

The ONS said the largest difference in symptoms between people with the new and old variants were for cough, reported in seven per cent more of those with the Kent strain.

People with this strain also reported a sore throat, fatigue, muscle pain and fever more often – by three per cent each.

ONS added: “There is no evidence of difference in the gastrointestinal symptoms, shortness of breath or headaches.”

The three official symptoms listed by the NHS for the original strain are a cough, fever and loss of taste or sense of smell.

But both the original and Kent variants appear to cause a fever in only 22 and 19 per cent, respectively.

Scientists have called for the official list of coronavirus symptoms to be altered to include signs such as headache and fatigue.

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