The entire world is battling the ever-changing pandemic landscape since the novel coronavirus outbreak. With a couple of new COVID-19 mutant variants, experts are concerned about new symptoms, long-term complications, and aftereffects of these newly mutated COVID-19 variants.
The recent surge in coronavirus cases in India clearly shows how a mutant strain can be deadlier than the previous strains. Here is a detailed overview of COVID-19 new strains and their symptoms, transmission, and vaccine effectiveness.
Why is COVID-19 Virus Mutating?
Viruses have the capability to change morphologically through constant mutation. Mutations are significant changes in the genetic code or genome envelope of a virus that naturally occur over time after an infection cycle. By changing constantly, viruses find new ways to infect their host and exhibit several new symptoms. The original strain of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has mutated drastically in the past twelve months. Some of the recently detected variants are more infectious and quickly escape the vaccine immune response inside the human body.
COVID-19 Mutant Variants:
The U.K. Variant (B.1.1.7)
A variant identified in the U.K. (B.1.1.7) appears to be more contagious and even more likely to affect the younger population. The U.K. variant of SARS-CoV-2 is the result of a series of mutations over time. Based on the nature of this variant’s mutations, this viral strain may be more rapidly transmissible than previous versions of SARS-CoV-2. The U.K. variant has been detected in several states in the U.S.A. and many countries globally.
Source: U.K.’s Office for National Statistics (O.N.S.)
The South Africa Variant (B.1.351)
The South African variant has been a concern for many researchers and scientists. This variant is contagious and has a moderate impact on the monoclonal antibodies generated by plasma therapy or COVID-19 vaccine. The South African variant also seems to be deadlier, with a high fatality rate.
The Japan/Brazil Variant (P.1)
The variant identified in Japan and Brazil is the P.1 SARS-CoV-2. While this variant has a moderate impact on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody and COVID-19 medications, it is highly contagious. It is also reported that this strain can reduce the efficacy of antibodies generated by a previous COVID-19 infection or a COVID-19 vaccine.
Source: Axios Variant Tracker
U.S California Variant (B.1.427 and B.1.429)
The U.S. (California) (B.1.427 and B.1.429) variants are contagious and have a significant impact on the effectiveness of some coronavirus treatments. However, these strains may reduce the vaccines’ efficacy and antibodies generated by a previous COVID-19 infection.
Indian Double/Triple COVID-19 Mutant Variant (B.1.618)
The mutated Indian COVID-19 variant is a combination of two mutations: E484Q and L452R. Due to the nature of this mutation, the variant is highly infectious and escapes antibodies quickly. While the current rise in the number of coronavirus cases in India is attributed to this double mutated virus, the actual concern is the newly detected Bengal strain. This strain has been traced in parts of West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Delhi, some of India’s prime locations. The new variant B.1.618, a combination of three different COVID strains, is deadlier than the previous double mutation version. Considering its immune escaping nature, similar to the E484K, this variant can easily evade antibodies produced after the COVID-19 infections and in monoclonal antibody therapy.
What Don’t We Know?
Scientists are still researching to learn more about the newly detected variants, their symptoms, and how widely they spread.
Most of these studies are geared towards understanding:
- How these new variants spread
- How the variants can be detected
- Do they exhibit new symptoms
- How these variants react to existing therapies, vaccines, and tests
New Symptoms and Spread:
With significant genetic variations from time to time, the new coronavirus strains are expected to bring new symptoms in humans and animals. Apart from the usual COVID-19 symptoms, some of the newly reported symptoms are:
- Fatigue and body ache
- Acute pneumonia and difficulty breathing
- Stomach disorder and diarrhea
- Low oxygen level
- Asphyxia and death
Could the new variants evade testing?
While the change of an emergent variant evading the tests is improbable, there are reportedly some instances when the virus strains escaped the common COVID-19 tests and were left undetected. The main reason for this is due to the mutational changes in the genetic code of the virus. Due to the viral particles escaping the tests, it is hard to detect the new strains without special COVID-19 Variant Testing. The new variant tests mostly use a PCR test by taking swabs from the upper respiratory specimen through a nasopharyngeal swab.
C.D.C.’s SARS-CoV-2 Variant Surveillance:
Since November 2020, the C.D.C. is constantly monitoring the new SARS-CoV variants by thoroughly examining the samples from state health departments and other public health agencies. The variant surveillance includes genomic sequencing, further characterization, and evaluation to detect and identify the newest and contagious variants of concern. The routine analysis of genetic sequence data further helps the C.D.C. and its public health partners to identify and characterize variant viruses and work towards treatment.
This genomic surveillance of emerging variants can help with:
- Early detection of the new strain
- Minimize the spread of the virus
- Understand the virus’ behavior and reaction towards the vaccine
- Understand if the new variant can evade detection or some specific diagnostic tests
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