New variants of COVID-19 emerge
December 10, 2021
COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is not at an all-time high anymore. However, new enemies have spiraled into our midst which is recognized as the new “variants of interest” right now. This is because viruses are constantly changing through mutations, alterations in the virus genes, causing variants to emerge. According to Johns Hopkins, mutations of a virus are inevitable; the new COVID-19 variants are very much not unexpected given that it is an RNA virus. This begs the question of what are some of these new variants and how serious are they?
Multiple were recently found in areas such as Brazil, England, and California, however, the Delta variant is dominating the world as of right now and is labeled as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Delta, the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S, was first discovered in India in December 2020 and it made its way to Great Britain and then to the U.S. This strain is said to have similar effects as COVID-19, however, the degree of illness can be much more severe. Yale medicine claims that the Delta Variant is “twice as contagious” as other variants that have recently surfaced, and it can dangerously affect those who have not been vaccinated with FDA-approved vaccines.
“It is estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people… In the same environment, Delta would spread from one person to maybe 3.5 or 4 other people,” says Yale Medicine epidemiologist F. Perry Wilson. This increase in transmission, along with an outrageous amount of hospitalized cases in areas of the country that have low vaccination rates, has caused this variant to result in more deaths and raises concern for younger children and adults as well.
The reason why variants are so concerning is that the mutation affects the coronavirus’s protein spikes, allowing the virus to more easily attach to cells of the nose and lungs. Thus, it makes the virus more easily spread if no cautionary measures are taken. Another note to consider is that despite being vaccinated and lowering the risk of infection, a vaccinated person who catches the virus can still transmit the disease to others.
Another variant that made its way to the people is the Mu variant. Thankfully, this strain surfaced and disappeared rather quickly. For a time in the months of March, April, May, and coming at a high of 2% of cases in June, Mu was reported in the single digits. However, Mu cases began to drop until there were very few cases being reported in the U.S. The reason why Mu was so concerning for a time is that it threatened immunity and was able to reproduce very rapidly.
“Based on a large number of escape mutations, it is extremely reasonable to expect that this variant might pose a threat to populations with increasing numbers of persons who have become vaccinated and/or previously infected,” says Medical Doctor Robert Shaffer. This is because of the threat to the immune system during this time.
Delta still remains the dominant variant which is contributing to “more than 99% of COVID-19 cases,” according to Yale Medicine. As of right now, the CDC labels the Mu variant a “variant being monitored.” There are also many more strains constantly surfacing and variants that have already made an impact such as the Alpha and Beta variants.
However, the CDC urges people to get vaccinated in order to not contribute to the spread of the virus in the U.S and internationally. Those who are vaccinated have fewer grave outcomes from catching the disease and as more states become vaccinated, the variants are less likely to spread.