The COVID-19 Virus is Mutating, Causing Concern in the Medical Community
While there is much hope on the horizon because of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, the news of the new mutations of the virus is certainly causing concern in medical circles. You are not alone if you are confused about how these newly discovered mutations will affect the outlook of getting this pandemic under control. Here is what you need to know about virus mutations and why these recent developments are concerning.
Mutations in Viruses Not Uncommon
It is important to understand that it is not uncommon for viruses to mutate. This is an expected occurrence. Viruses mutate as a means to boost their survival. As viruses mutate, it is often likely that they will become stronger and more resilient to the body's natural immune system. Because COVID-19 is still a virus at its roots, the recent mutations have not surprised immunologists and other scientists who understand how viruses work and evolve.
One of the reasons why these mutations are being detected now is simply because more people have been infected. As the virus moves more quickly through the population, it has an easier time mutating and spreading. There is no doubt that the virus is more widespread than it even was just a few months ago.
Mutation in the UK
Approximately one month ago, it became known that there was a new strain of the virus circulating through the population in the UK. Recent research demonstrates that the new strain is believed to be up to 70% more infectious than the original variant that first hit the world.
The new variant is known scientifically as the B.1.1.7 lineage and is responsible for the majority of severe cases throughout the southern region of England. Medical experts also blame the new variant for a rapid spike in confirmed cases in people under the age of 20, causing alarm that younger populations may not be as resistant to this strain.
This variant has also been identified in a handful of states in the US as health officials caution that it is most likely already circulating widely throughout the nation. The good news is that, while more contagious, this variant does not seem to be more intense in the severity of illness.
Mutation in South Africa
Known as the B.1.351 lineage, there is also a new variant circulating in South Africa. Because it has been shown to have a higher viral load, it is also believed to be more contagious. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that this strain has mostly replaced the previous mutation in the regions of the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape, and the KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
How Will Variants Affect Vaccine Effectiveness
Naturally, what has most people concerned is how the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines will respond to these emerging mutations. Although there have been no scientific studies that examine how the new mutations will affect the efficacy of the vaccines, medical professionals are reasonably confident that the vaccine will still be effective against any new mutations.
The vaccines were specifically designed to be able to withstand a certain amount of mutation. Additionally, if it becomes clear that the vaccine is not as effective against the new strains of the virus, the immunization can be quickly tweaked to target the emerging sequences of the new variant. The bottom line is that this base vaccine can be reworked to go to work against a variety of sequences.
However, medical experts are concerned that the new mutations may not be as receptive to antibody treatments. This could potentially complicate the treatment of patients inflicted with severe illness as a result of the virus.
Prevention Remains the Same
It is also important to remember that, regardless of the variant that you are exposed to, the prevention remains the same. Just like with the original strain of COVID-19, social distancing, mask-wearing, and proper hygiene are the best lines of defense. The more infectious strain simply means that you need to be more diligent in adhering to these practices so that you can do your part to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus.
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