Virus mutation is a common occurrence. In fact, it is expected to happen. As such, we have seen the identification of several COVID-19 variants. Sometimes new strains will resolve on their own, and at times, they persist and are more severe than the original virus. These mutations occur due to a change in the virus’s genes.
What are the COVID-19 Variants?
The currently identified COVID-19 strains are B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.617.2 (Delta). These variants were found in the United States and other countries. In this post, we will explore the four new strains of the COVID-19 virus.
The variant, COVID-19B.1.351 (Beta), is rather prevalent in the United States and Brazil. It was first noticed in South Africa in December 2020 and identified in the United States a few weeks later. January 2021 led to the discovery of the COVID-19 P.1 (Gamma) strain. According to the CDC, P.1. was identified in travelers at a Japanese airport who traveled from Brazil. A few isolated cases have been reported in the United States and Brazil.
The COVID-19 strain B.1.7 (Delta) is relatively uncommon. The first cases of this variant were found in India around December 2020. Then in January 2021, COVID-19 Delta got identified in the United States. The final strain is B.1.1.7 (Alpha), which was discovered in the United States in December 2020; however, it originated from the United Kingdom. So far, it is the most common strain.
Infection with the COVID-19 mutations gets diagnosed through blood tests, but most will not detect these four strains. However, The New York Times reported that "scientists have agreed, there is no evidence that the known variants of concern are causing tests to fail completely." The symptoms of the COVID-19 variants are similar to those experienced by people infected by the regular SARS-CoV-2, such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat/sore muscles (myalgia), fatigue, or malaise.
As we know, there is no specific treatment against COVID-19. So the world has been depending on vaccines to provide immunity and virus control. However, Hopkins Medicine asserts that, "researchers have found that the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca provides "minimal" protection from the B.1.351 version of the coronavirus." The other vaccines offer less efficacy against the variants, as well. The CDC advises that we continue to practice coronavirus safety measures, like wearing a mask, physical distancing, and hand washing or sanitizing to decrease the risk of infection.
Each day we learn more about these strains and scientists are working tirelessly to understand more about them. So far, we know that these variants spread more easily than the original form of the virus and the vaccines offer lower protection, which companies are working to remedy. So we must exercise caution. We are all in this fight together; let's help protect ourselves and others by practicing the COVID-19 safety measures and sharing credible information.
CDC. (2020, February 11). About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html
New Variants of Coronavirus: What You Should Know. (2020). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/a-new-strain-of-coronavirus-what-you-should-know
What the Coronavirus Variants Mean for Testing. (2021). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/14/health/coronavirus-testing-variants.html