Newer Strains of Corona Virus

The corona virus pandemic, which originated from Wuhan city of China and spread to Europe, USA, Africa, and Asia, has affected 108 million people globally, leading to more than 2.4 million deaths. COVID-19 spared no one, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, geography, and social status, and it appears to be a major hurdle in the progress of developing nations. The emergence of newer mutated strains has led to more fear and anxiety in most of us.

Why does the corona virus change?

In fact, it is the nature of RNA viruses, such as the corona virus, to evolve and change gradually. Variants of viruses occur when there is a mutation to the virus’s genes. Mutations in viruses, including the corona virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, are neither new, nor unexpected. All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. As we know, flu viruses change often, thus leading to new flu vaccine recommendation every year.

COVID-19 variants: How are they different?

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating globally:

  • The United Kingdom identified a variant called B.1.1.7 with a large number of mutations in the fall of 2020. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.
  • In South Africa, another variant called B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7. Originally detected in early October 2020, B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7.
  • South African researchers say they believe that the new variant is around 50% more contagious, based on the much faster rate of COVID-19 transmission since its emergence and biological studies of changes to the structure of the virus, which appear to make it easier for it to attach to and infect human cells.
  • Both the UK and South African variants have one common mutation, called the N501Y mutation.
  • In Brazil, a variant called P.1 emerged that was first identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan in early January. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.
  • Some of the mutations in the B.1.1.7 version seem to affect the corona virus’s spike protein, which covers the outer coating of SARS-CoV-2 and give the virus its characteristic spiny appearance. These proteins help the virus attach to human cells in the nose, lungs, and other areas of the body, causing COVID-19 illness

These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than previous variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.

Is there a new variant of the corona virus that is more dangerous?
Although newer strains of corona virus are more contagious, there is no evidence yet that any of these newer variants are more virulent in terms of causing severe COVID-19 pneumonia and death.

Are there different or additional COVID-19 precautions for the new corona virus mutations?
No. mask, physical distancing, and hygiene are the core principle of stopping spread of the virus, regardless of mutation.
Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and adequate ventilation, as well as isolation and quarantine, is essential to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 and protect public health.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine work on the new strains?
According to the World Health Organization, “Our knowledge and understanding regarding SARS-CoV-2 virus is still incomplete and evolving rapidly. But, at this point, most scientists believe that the vaccines that are currently in development and a couple that have been approved should provide protection against this variant and other variants, because these vaccines elicit a fairly broad immune response, a host of antibodies, and cell-mediated immune responses. The immune response involves many components, and a reduction in one does not mean that the vaccines will not offer protection.”

“We deal with mutations every year for flu virus, and develop vaccines targeting newer strains on each northern and southern hemisphere. Importantly, we must realize the fact that with the newer innovations and development in science and technology, and our understanding of viral natures, we will be able to develop vaccines targeting newer strains if required like flu.”

Though not yet completely evidence based; so far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through mRNA (Pfizer & Moderna) vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants. However, adenovirus vector vaccine produced by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca seems to be less efficacious against South African mutant variant B.1.351.

Do signs and symptoms differ?
No. Newer, as well as previous variants, behave similarly, except for being more rapid in spread. Cough, fever, loss of smell and taste, difficulty breathing, etc. are also seen with newer variants, as well. However, chills, loss of appetite, headache, and muscle aches are more frequently recognized with newer UK strains. Indeed, majority of cases are still asymptomatic.

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