A research team looking into the sewage found that mutations of the mystery lineage appear to be similar to Omicron. But the mutations of the viral fragments that they found in the wastewater have never been seen before in human patients. This could reportedly signal a previously undetected variant that could break out like Omicron did.
Study co-leader John Dennehy, a virologist at The Graduate Center at City University New York, told LiveScience: “The fact that the Omicron variant came from somewhere unknown and that it shares quite a few of its mutations with the unknown variant we see in New York City, that does pose a pretty serious concern that whatever we’re seeing could find the right combination of mutations that would make it highly transmissible.”
But there is currently no evidence to suggest that lineages pose more of a health risk than Omicron or Delta.
The mystery lineages have been circulating for a year, and are still yet to overtake either of the two dominant strains of the virus.
Now, researchers are scrambling to find the origin of the “cryptic” lineage.
Paper co-author Monica Trujillo from Queensborough Community College, said: “At this point, what we can say is that we haven’t found the cryptic lineages in human databases, and we have looked all over.”
Prof Dennehy added: “I think it’s really important that we find the source, and we have not been able to pin that down.”
So far, the new lineages have only been discovered in certain areas of New York.
And luckily, they don’t appear to spreading to different neighbourhoods.
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The four of these mystery lineages discovered have been coined WNY1, WNY2, WNY3 and WNY4.
Analysis has revealed that the viral fragments with new patterns of mutations kept on showing up at a number of treatment plants.
Michael Lanza, a spokesman for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said: “To date we have not seen these variants among clinical patients in N.Y.C.”
While humans appear safe from the new lineages for now, the scientists have been left scratching their heads as to where it came from.
Some experts have speculated that it may have originated in animals.
Another explanation is that they are coming from unsampled human infections as only 2.6 percent to 12.9 percent of New York City cases are sequenced at any given time.