What you need to know about the new COVID-19 mutations

Viruses are always changing, often acquiring small mutations in their genes over time as they spread among people. And through the evolution and adaptation processes, new variants of the virus strain emerge over time. Since the start of the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been mutating. Many variants are relatively unremarkable as these emerge and often go undetected and disappear. However, some variants occur and persist, helping the virus survive and reproduce. 

Here are some of the things you need to know about the COVID-19 mutations:

The New COVID-19 Variants

The new COVID-19 variants contain mutations that make it easier for the virus to bind to human cells; therefore, making it more transmissible from person-to-person. Scientists have been keeping a close eye on three rapidly spreading variants:

  • B.1.1.7, which was the variant identified in the UK,
  • B.1.351, which emerged in South Africa, and
  • P.1, which was identified in Brazil

The three variants are worrying health experts as these have a range of mutations, resulting in amino acid changes. The N501Y is among the mutations that may influence the transmissibility of the virus. It affects the spike (S) protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to clip onto human cells’ receptors and enter them.

Why are the new variants causing concern?

The main concern for health experts, so far, is that some of the variants of the virus seem to have changed in ways that make them more easily transmissible than earlier versions of the virus. Some mutations that were analysed in the lab were seen to affect a part of the virus, likely to be essential; therefore, increasing the virus’s ability to infect cells.

 

Are the new COVID-19 variants more contagious?

According to epidemiological data in the UK, the B.1.1.7 variant has heightened transmissibility. Meanwhile, epidemiologists in South Africa have estimated that the B.1.351 variant is about 50% more contagious than dominant lineages. On the other hand, virologists say it is too early to conclude whether the P.1 variant, which emerged in Brazil, is more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus. 

Although the new COVID-19 mutations could be more transmissible, it does not seem that the illness experienced by symptomatic patients is worse. Moreover, researchers say there is not enough evidence so far that the new strains cause milder or more severe disease.

 

Can this virus potentially mutate any further?

Although there is no indication for the SARS-CoV-2 to mutate any further as it is currently dominating its environment, the virus is still believed to be unpredictable. Experts indicate that the virus’s microbiology can produce some tight ends that might help in its mutation over time. 

Future Predictions

According to specialists at Harley Medic International it seems as though COVID-19 will be a way of life for at least the next 2 – 5 years. Although testing and vaccination services have improved greatly in the last few months, further mutations and the ability for vaccinations to impede the spread of COVID-19 will determine how much longer the pandemic will go on for.

 

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