What are the Coronavirus Variants and Do We Need to Worry About Them?
There's much talk about the different variants or strains of the Coronavirus spreading all over the world. Let's see what these are in-depth.
What is a Coronavirus variant?
Viruses are unique in their infections because they can replicate or make copies of themselves through mutation. When a virus, for example, SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19), has one or more new mutations, it is said to be a "variant" of the original virus.
Scientists have discovered more than one variant of Coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. With new variants continuously emerging in different parts of the world, measures to treat and vaccinate against Coronavirus disease are becoming difficult.
Why is it Important to Learn About Coronavirus Variants?
Knowing Coronavirus variants is important not only for health workers but also for the general public. When Coronavirus undergoes mutation, it changes, oftentimes to resist the current treatment measures.
Viruses, Coronavirus not exempted, always want to survive in the host. In this case, we are experiencing several concerns about Coronavirus variants because SARS-Cov-2 contains mutations in the spike-like S protein that it uses to bind and infect human cells.
Knowing the different Coronavirus variants is important so that the necessary precautions can be effected at an individual and public health level.
How are Coronavirus Variants Classified?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) classifies Coronavirus variants into three categories: Variants of Interest (VOI), Variants of Concern (VOC), and Variants of High Consequences (VHQ). When a variant is still under investigation, it is termed “Variant Under Investigation.”
Once its attributes are known, the variant is grouped into any of the three categories: variant of interest, variant of concern, or variant of high consequences.
A variant can also be named after the country in which it is first identified. For example, we have the India variant (B.1.617.2), UK or Kent variant (B.1.1.7), South Africa variant (B.1.351), and Brazil variant (P.1).
Variant of Interest
A Coronavirus variant belongs to this category if its specific genetic markers associated with changes to receptor binding have reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.
B.1.525 variant was first identified in the United Kingdom and Nigeria in December 2020. Some attributes of the B.1.525 variant are a potential reduction in neutralization by some EUA monoclonal antibody treatments and a potential reduction in neutralization by convalescent and post-vaccination era.
B.1.617 variant was first identified in India in October 2020. It has a higher rate of transmission and a slightly reduced neutralization by the post-vaccination era. Dangerous mutations of B.1.617 (B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2) have become a concern to the management and treatment of Covid-19 because they have very high transmissibility.
B.1.526 variant was first identified in The United States (New York) in November 2020. Like B.1.525 variant, it has a reduced neutralization by convalescent and post-vaccination era. One of its mutations is B.1.526.1 variant, also identified in New York in October 2020.
P.2 variant was first identified in Brazil in April 2020. CDC notes that it has a potential reduction in neutralization by some EUA monoclonal antibody treatments and a reduced neutralization by post-vaccination sera.
Variant of Concern
In this category, the variant shows attributes of a variant of interest and there is an increase in transmissibility, severity of the disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.
The India Variant also referred to as B.1.617.2 was first detected in India as a mutation of the B.1.617 variant. It also spreads fast, and it has recorded over 1,000 cases in the United Kingdom.
UK or Kent variant (B.1.1.7) was first detected in the United Kingdom and is prevalent in Britain. It spreads very easily and has been reported in more than 50 countries, including India. It has an increased risk of death.
The South Africa variant (B.1.351), first identified in South Africa, spreads rapidly. It has spread in at least 20 other countries.
The Brazil Variant (P.1), first detected in Brazil, is also known to spread fast. In P.1, the effectiveness of antibodies generated following a Covid-19 infection or vaccine is reduced significantly.
B.1.429 variant was first identified in the United States (California). Like B.1.1.7 variant, it spreads very easily. It also reduces the effectiveness of antibodies following a Covid-19 infection or vaccination.
Variant of High Consequences
A variant is termed of high consequence if it has the attributes of the variant of concern and there is clear evidence that prevention measures have significantly reduced effectiveness relative to previously circulating variants.
None of the current SARS-Cov-2 variants has been classified as a variant of high consequences.
Are They More Dangerous?
At the moment, no variant has been classified as that of high consequence, thus they may only differ in attributes but they all cause Coronavirus disease.
The preventive measures remain the same: regular sanitizing, maintaining social distance in public places, and wearing clean face masks.
While Coronavirus variants are causing alarm around the globe, the current immunization plan is a promising measure to manage the pandemic. Know more about Coronavirus vaccines.
How Can You Help?
You can help the World Health Organization (WHO) combat the Coronavirus pandemic worldwide by donating to them.
Help us fight this issue, along with all other pressing issues of our world by contributing whatever you can.
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Nondiah Khalayi is a Kenya-based Health Science student at the University of the People and a Content Writer at IYOPS. She enjoys a calm life, reading, and writing.