ABUJA - The Africa and Nigerian Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said a new variant of the coronavirus has emerged in Nigeria. The head of Nigeria's CDC said it is studying the new strain, which is different from new strains discovered in Britain and South Africa.
The variant strain was discovered in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in Nigeria's Osun State.
New strain is being studied
The Nigeria CDC said it is studying the new strain. Director General Chikwe Ihekweazu said at a national COVID-19 briefing that it may be too early to determine if the new strain is deadlier or weaker than its parent virus.
"What we're now going to do is collect a selection of other viruses circulating in Nigeria now, so from the more recent cases and try and compare what we have now with what we have previously in Nigeria but also what is circulating abroad," Ihekweazu said. "This is ongoing work.”
Mutant strains of the coronavirus have appeared in Britain and South Africa in recent weeks but African health officials said the Nigerian variant is different from both.
Nigeria is recording an escalation in coronavirus cases. Infections have increased by 52% from November to December.
This week, authorities imposed new restrictions on gatherings and warned citizens to avoid traveling during the yuletide season.
Ihekweazu said there is a chance the new strain is responsible for the recent surge in cases.
"We'll be carrying out over the next few weeks to see whether we can explain some of the increased transmissions happening in Nigeria and to look at whether it is related to the virus,” Ihekweazu said.
Nigeria is among many African countries trying to obtain and distribute coronavirus vaccines by the early part of next year.
The Africa and Nigeria Centers for Disease Control said the new coronavirus strains will not affect vaccine deployment but experts worry that a continuously mutating virus could be difficult to control.
Citizens urged to stay vigilant
Olobayo Kunle is a pharmaceutical research expert at the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development.
"Vaccines are designed based on a number of assumptions," Kunle said. "They're built around a known range of characteristics. If these characteristics keep changing, eventually we may get to a point where it falls out of the range for which that vaccine was developed.”
The NCDC and other experts are hopeful the new variant is less infectious and deadly but for now authorities urge citizens to stay vigilant, especially during the holidays.