Last summer, the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 swept through the United States and quickly became the most dominant strain of the virus in the country by July 2021. By the end of the year, the omicron variant, which was first reported by South African scientists in late November, was labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. Now, omicron cases are surging worldwide.
On Jan. 7, Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, who serves as a professor of biological science at the University of Cyprus, told a local television station his research team had identified 25 cases of people who were infected with “deltacron” – a virus Kostrikis claims formed from a mutation of both the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19. The story quickly spread online, and it left many people wondering if they should be concerned about this alleged new variant.
Does the World Health Organization identify “deltacron” as a variant of COVID-19?
No, the World Health Organization has not identified “deltacron” as a variant of COVID-19.
WHAT WE FOUND
In May 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO), the international public health agency of the United Nations, began assigning simple labels for key variants of COVID-19 by using letters from the Greek alphabet. In an email statement, WHO told VERIFY there is no COVID-19 variant currently classified by the agency that is named “deltacron.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. has also not labeled “deltacron” as a variant.
Since Dr. Kostrikis’ claim, several public health officials across the globe have cast doubt on the legitimacy of his findings.
In a Jan. 10 tweet, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove urged against using nicknames like “deltacron” because it “implies a combination of viruses or variants that’s not happening,” adding that “‘deltacron’ is likely contamination during sequencing.”
Cyprus’ minister of health Michael Hadjipantela said on Jan. 8 deltacron was “not something to worry about at the moment”, according to news reports. Hadjipantela added he was proud of the findings of the Cypriot scientists and said a news conference related to “deltacron” would be held within the next week.
While researchers say it is possible to get a co-infection of the delta and omicron variants at the same time, multiple public health experts have shared on social media (here, here and here) that they also believe a lab error is to blame for “deltacron.” However, Kostrikis disputes those claims.
In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, Kostrikis said the cases he has identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event. These findings refute the undocumented statements that deltacron is a result of a technical error.”
VERIFY reached out to Kostrikis for comment and has not heard back.