There are about 55 variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), circulating in Nigeria, according to the government.
Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, made the disclosure in a statement on Friday evening.
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He said: “As of February 14 2021, there are about 55 different lineages of SARS-CoV-2 known to be circulating in Nigeria and they are changing rapidly.
“The diversity of SARS-CoV-2 strains indicate multiple introductions of the virus into Nigeria from different parts of the world and adds to evidence of community transmission in different states of Nigeria.”
Dr Ihekweazu said that a total of 29 cases with the B.1.1.7 variant strain, which was first described in the United Kingdom and shown to be linked to increase in transmissibility, have so far been detected in Nigeria.
These strains were detected from cases in Lagos, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Osun, Oyo, Kwara and Edo States.
All samples with the B.1.1.7 variant strain were collected from patients between November and January 2021, he said.
He said that on the 11th of February, some recent SARS-CoV-2 genomes were seen to have distinct mutations and characterised as a new variant B.1.525, adding that so far, this has been detected among cases in five states in the country.
The NCDC boss said B.1.525 is a new strain, but not yet a variant of concern and further analysis is ongoing.
“As at the 17th of February, these have been reported from United Kingdom (44), Denmark (35), Nigeria (30), United States of America (12), Canada (5), France (5), Ghana (4), Australia (2), Jordan (2), Singapore (1), Finland (1), Belgium (1) and Spain (1).
“The first detected B.1.525 case in Nigeria was in a sample collected on the 23rd of November from a patient in Lagos State, “ he added.
‘Thousands of mutations’
The agency said it was important for Nigerians to note that all viruses naturally mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2, adding that since SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, thousands of mutations have arisen and will continue to do so, allowing new strain lineages of the virus to evolve.
“The vast majority of mutations will have little impact.
“But every once in a while, a virus mutates in a way that helps it survive and reproduce better than its progenitors.
“Viruses carrying these mutations can then increase in frequency due to natural selection.
“When mutant viruses have some advantage, they are referred to as “variants of concern,” it said.
The statement said there are three institutions with sequencing capacity for SARS-CoV-2 in Nigeria.
These are NCDC, the Nigeria Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the Africa Centre for Excellence in Genomics (ACEGID).
ACEGID has the most advanced capacity and is also a reference laboratory for the joint World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centres for Disease Control COVID-19 Genome Sequencing Laboratory Network.
“Collaboration among these three institutions led to the first SARS-CoV-2 virus sequences reported from Africa.
“The University of Ibadan in collaboration with Northwestern University in the USA has also conducted some sequencing in Nigeria.
“So far, about 400 sequences from Nigeria have been deposited in global databases including GISAID, mostly by ACEGID,” the statement said.