What you need to know about the new Covid MU Variant
The World Health Organization has added the covid mu variant to their list of viruses to monitor. The covid mu variant has been designated a variant of interest. This means that mu is different to the other known variants of the infection and it has spread around several countries which might indicate a particular health risk.
It might be possible that mu’s genetic changes make it more easily transmissible or more severe. This means that the virus could potentially escape the immune responses of vaccine or previous variants. This means that it might be less sensitive to treatment methods.
A variant of concern (VOC) is one that has been proven to acquire one of the following characteristics, making it more dangerous and consequential: Covid mu variant is being monitored closely to see if it should be re-designated as a VOC. We have to hope not.
There are four other possible variants worthy of investigation (iota, eta, mu and kappa) but all of these have not been recognized as a variant-of-concern. This might be the case with lambda too, but we’ll need to wait for more data before drawing conclusions.
Covid mu variant has some interesting properties that are concerning, in that the WHO has called it a “constellation of mutations“. It also had some characteristics the suggest it can escape specific treatments.
Where is the Covid MU Variant spreading?
Mu first showed up in the country of Colombia in January 2021, where it was given the designation B1621. It has since been found in 40 more countries but is thought to currently only be responsible for 0.1% of global infections.
Colombia has had a greater prevalence of virus mu when measuring the coronavirus samples that have been genetically sequenced. Out of all samples analyzed in Colombia, 39% are mu – though no mu samples have been recorded there in the past four years.
The prevalence of mu in Ecuador is at 8% while it’s 39% in Chile. This suggests that the virus is no longer circulating in Colombia, but is being transmitted in other nearby countries.
So far, 45 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the UK and it seems like they came from abroad. However, as not all cases are sequenced to find out their variant, it’s possible that COVID-19 is more prevalent than we know.
How dangerous is the Covid MU Variant?
One of the most important questions is whether mu is more transmissible than delta. It’s also worth considering whether mu can produce a more severe disease.
Mu has a mutation called P681H. It was first reported in the alpha variant, and may be responsible for the virus’ ability to spread more quickly. This research is still in a pre-print state which means that its findings have not been formally reviewed by the scientific community. In other words, we don’t know for sure what sort of effect P681H has on the virus yet.
Mu also has E484K & K417N mutations associated with being able to evade antibodies against the coronavirus. The evidence is much more concrete in this case. One study has shown that, similarly to the beta variant, these mutations can also be found in the beta variant. This information could mean that we might not be able to 100% protect ourselves and that some of our vaccines may not be as effective against it.
Other mutations that have been observed include R346K and Y144T. Further analysis is required to find out what the consequences of these mutations are.
Although specific data is hard to come by, it seems that mu might eventually become less potent and need stronger resistance. A lab in Rome found that the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was less effective against mu than other variations tested at a lab. Despite this, the study still considered mu’s protection offered by the vaccine to be robust. We still don’t know whether mu’s mutations will translate to increased infection and disease.
It has been announced recently that some striking reports on mu have appeared in the media. For example, recently in late July, Miami local News claimed that 10% of samples sequenced at the University of Miami were mu. In early August, Barron’s reported that seven residents from a nursing home in Belgium died from a recent outbreak of mu. However, the variety of behavior this virus causes is still unknown and reports of outbreaks are only present in small parts of Europe.
What happens now?
When the WHO identifies a variant of interest, they carry out a comparative analysis of it to see how it compares to other variants. To do this, they ask member states to gather information about the new variant.
The precautionary designation of mu as a VOI reflects the widespread concern over the possibility of new variants emerging that could prove problematic. More and more countries are adopting the delta variant of this pandemic, especially among those who haven’t been vaccinated. This demonstrates how swiftly and profoundly new variations of the virus can change the course of the disease.
When a virus reproduces inside a host, there is a chance it will mutate and form another variant. The game of genetic roulette is all about chance. With every roll, new traits may appear. The best way to stop variants from developing is to make sure everyone is vaccinated.
The mu virus is a reminder to keep eradicating it. Many people, especially those in developing countries, have not been vaccinated. We need to make sure vaccines get to these countries as fast as possible, not only for the good of the people there but also because any new variants we see might take months to overcome; here’s how we can make sure it doesn’t happen.
Is the MU Variant worse than the Delta Variant?
There are numerous COVID-19 variants that can be traced to right now: alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated the COVID-19 delta variant as one of its “Variants of Concern”, i.e. transmittable viruses with a higher infection rate, more severe symptoms, or less susceptibility to available treatments or harm reduction methods.
The constant mutation of the virus COVID-19 is happening without any control. That’s why there are many new variants of the disease being discovered in high-risk places. New variants of the vaccine-preventable diseases are being discovered in areas with high infection rates and large numbers of people who refuse to be vaccinated, such as parts of the United States, the United Kingdom, India and Brazil.
The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gather information on slightly different variants in order to help determine whether the variant is dangerous globally or only in the United States.
These days, new medical variants with catchy names are popping up as they spread in various countries – just recently the WHO named a new one called “mu” because it is spreading in some countries, but the CDC has not designated this variant as a threat to Americans.
Variants of concern
Currently there are only a few variants of COVID-19. All of them have mutations in the spike protein, which is essential to break into cells.
With the original version of the virus, scientists designed all three of the authorized vaccines. The concern is that there’s a spike protein variant in this new version.
It also means that monoclonal antibody treatments can bind to the virus so it can’t attach to your cells, effectively “neutralizing” the threat. None of these mutations have been potent enough to break vaccines so far.
Right now, there are only a handful of concerning COVID-19 variants. The current VOCs all have mutations in the virus’s spike protein, which acts as a key to break into cells to infect them. And that’s a potential concern because the spike protein from the original version of the virus is what scientists used to design all three authorized vaccines. It’s also what monoclonal antibody treatments latch on to so the virus can’t get into your cells, effectively “neutralizing” the threat. So far none of these mutations have changed the virus enough to undercut the vaccines.
Alpha variant (B.1.1.7)
The alpha mutation is the more recent strain that was observed, leading to higher rates of hospitalization and mortality in the U.K. Although the alpha variant is incompatible with conventional vaccines, it can still be helped by monoclonal antibodies. Thus, they will still work against these viruses in people with the alpha variant.
Beta variant (B.1.351, B.1.351.2, B.1.351.3)
The new strain is about 50% more contagious than the original, making it harder to fight off. It also has a better ability to evade antibodies in our defense systems, meaning they become even more resistant.
According to early studies from South Africa and countries in the European Union, this could potentially lead to more hospital admissions and death in people under 60.
The beta strain of the virus only accounted for a minority of infections in early 2021, but now there are no documented cases at all.
Gamma variant (P.1, P.1.1, P.1.2)
A new form of the illness was found in Japan in November 2020, and then later in the United States in January 2021. Like other variants, the gamma variant’s spike protein makes it better at escaping neutralizing antibodies. So just because you have previously managed COVID-19 or are vaccinated doesn’t mean you’re immune to it.
Delta variant (B.1.617.2, AY.1, AY.2, AY.3)
Unfortunately, the virus mutated again in October 2020 to become delta. The change was noticed after it had spread out to America in March 2021. Delta managed to mutate yet again, splitting into sub-variants called “delta plus” which has now become so widespread it’s no longer possible to trace back its origins.
Delta-plus variants of delta-resuscitation protein can evade some infection fighting antibodies. 13% of all infections in the US are from these variants (AY.1, AY.2, and AY.3).
Collectively, all delta lineages make up 80-95% of sequenced infections in the country. The spike protein has multiple mutations, which is a common trait for VOCs. Delta stands out because it latches onto cells much more efficiently than other VOCs do.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, delta is about twice as contagious as the original strain and estimated to be 60% more contagious than alpha. Reported cases of the delta variant have viral loads 1,000 times higher than other variants.
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