COVID-19 continues to evolve and mutate, leading to the discovery of new variants every now and then. At present, two variants that are being monitored carefully are the Mu variant and the Delta Plus variant.
But what are these variants and how are they different from other strains of the coronavirus?
Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious diseases specialist with UT Health San Antonio and University Health, explains what people should expect from these new emerging variants.
According to Bowling, the Delta-plus variant contains a new mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells. It is closely related to the highly contagious Delta variant, which is causing a surge of cases and deaths across the world. But unlike the Delta variant, the Delta-plus has been found in low numbers in the U.S.
In Nueces County, however, officials received a report of its first case of the Delta-plus variant last week, Caller-Times reported.
Meanwhile, the Mu variant, which was first discovered in Colombia, was categorized by the World Health Organization as a “variant of interest” on Aug. 30.
As per the data, this variant can evade existing antibodies, including antibodies from the vaccines currently available. This means that the vaccines might not work against this variant.
In San Antonio’s Bexar County, 99% of the cases recorded in the city are caused by the Delta variant.
Dr. Espinoza, the chief of epidemiology with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said that the Mu variant and Delta-plus variant are not yet identified in Bexar County as of Wednesday, but this doesn’t mean that the variants are not present in the city.
The Mu variant, after showing worrisome genetic changes that can affect how serious sickness can be and how easily the virus is transmitted from a person to another, prompted the WHO to add this variant as a “variant of interest”, according to Bowling. But the variant is not able to replace the Delta variant, he said.
Although the Mu variant is now in the state, it only accounts for a small percentage of the total cases. This variant has already been detected in dozens of countries, but the biggest number of cases is still in Colombia, where it accounts for 39% of all the cases, according to WHO.
Bowling also said that while the Mu variant is raising concerns about how effective the vaccine may be against this variant, vaccinated individuals will not lose all protection abruptly.
The vaccines still show that it is the best protection against all other variants and all other strains that may arise. “The problem that we face is that the sheer volume of people getting infected is so high that we are continuing to see these variants come up,” Bowling said, adding: “Getting vaccinated is really the most important tool that’s going to get us out of it.”
COVID-19 has so far infected 224,057,403 people across the world and claimed 4,621,379 lives, according to worldometer data.