Marc Johnson, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, captivated his Twitter followers earlier this year when he asked for help tracking down the provenance of the unique variant.
"Help me solve a COVID cryptic lineage mystery," he wrote at the time.
He discovered the new lineage of the virus while reviewing a database of Covid samples, he told Insider. More than that, he learned that all instances of the unique strain appeared to be coming from a single person in Ohio.
People suffering from infections shed viral material when they cough, sneeze, or through defecation. Mr Johnson found that the majority of the viral material detected has been found in Columbus, Ohio's capital, and the city of Washington Court House.
He believes the infected individual likely lives in one place and works in the other.
Mr Johnson said the rogue variant living in a single sick person in Ohio doesn't warrant immediate public health concerns, but did say that the infected individual is likely suffering from long Covid and could probably use help.
He and his Twitter followers used US Census Data to determine that approximately 1,600 people make a commute between Washington Court House and Columbus. Someone among those 1,600 is likely carrying the cryptic lineage.
The professor noted that whoever the mystery carrier is, they could be helpful to researchers seeking to better understand how the virus changes and how individuals become super-shedders of the virus.
He also assured readers that there was "no manhunt" for the infected individual, and that he was not trying to violate the individual's medical privacy. Mr Johnson said he wanted to make the search public in hopes someone who has been feeling bad for some time may recognize themselves as a potential candidate.
The professor told Insider that there are no tests for detecting Covid-19 in stool, so it is highly unlikely the infected person will figure out on their own that they have the virus. He said he hopes the sick individual sees the post and is able to connect the dots between their likely symptoms and their location.
He said the infected individual likely is experiencing some kind of gastrointestinal symptoms, and may be completely unaware they have long Covid.
"I would love to know the details, [but] mostly I want them to seek treatment," he said.
This isn't the first cryptic Covid strain Mr Johnson has identified; he has been studying viral lineages found in wastewater since 2021, and may hold clues to potential future variants of the virus.
That was the case during the pandemic, when researchers realized that the Omicron variant looked very similar to the cryptic lineages they had previously discovered in wastewater.
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