Information You Need: New, highly transmissible COVID-19 virus variants

A common characteristic of viruses is their ability to mutate into different variants, or strains. We see this every year with the seasonal flu and we have seen this occur multiple times during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as well. 

There are many newly identified variants, but one variant of particular interest was discovered back in September in the United Kingdom and has since been identified in COVID-19 patients across over 30 countries including the U.S in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The variant’s mutations have given it the capability to be 40-50% more transmissible. Despite this increase in its ease of transmission, the science that is currently available demonstrates no increased risk of severe illness or death. However, early research is suggesting that this variant may be more likely to infect and be transmitted by children and greater transmissibility means more rapid influx of people who need care in hospitals, further straining the medical system. 

There are other variants with mutations including those detected in South Africa, Japan, Brazil and Peru. Each one of these appears to be different and need further research to identify differences in transmissibility, populations impacted, and disease manifestation. It is certain that other variants will continue to be detected as the virus spreads.

Much more research is needed to understand how far across the world these variants have spread and exactly what the differences are between the variants and previous types that we have already seen (e.g., disease progression, long-term effects, etc). Scientists are also working to understand whether the variants are able to be identified via the current tests available for COVID-19, or whether the variants will respond to the treatments that have been successfully used against COVID-19. Another question is whether the distributed vaccines will be effective for the new variants. Fortunately, the current vaccines produce a broad response to multiple targets of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and scientists believe that the vaccines will be effective against the variants.

For more information regarding the variants of the virus, visit this link.

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