Covid Variants Continue

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New Variants of Coronavirus: What You Should Know​


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  • robert-bollinger.ashx

    Robert Bollinger, M.D., M.P.H.
  • stuart-ray.ashx

    Stuart Ray, M.D.
In December 2020, news media reported a new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and since then, other variants have been identified and are under investigation. The new variants raise questions: Are people more at risk for getting sick? Will the COVID-19 vaccines still work? Are there new or different things you should do now to keep your family safe?
Stuart Ray, M.D., vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics, and Robert Bollinger, M.D., M.P.H., Raj and Kamla Gupta professor of infectious diseases, are experts in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They talk about what is known about these new variants, and answer questions and concerns you may have.

Why does the coronavirus change?​

Variants of viruses occur when there is a change — or mutation — to the virus’s genes. Ray says it is the nature of RNA viruses such as the coronavirus to evolve and change gradually. “Geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct variants,” he says.
Mutations in viruses — including the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic — are neither new nor unexpected. Bollinger explains: “All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year."
Researcher using a pipette.

Is there a new coronavirus mutation?​

“We are seeing multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that are different from the version first detected in China,” Ray says.
He notes that one mutated version of the coronavirus was detected in southeastern England in September 2020. That variant, now known as B.1.1.7, quickly became the most common version of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases in December. It is now the predominant form of the coronavirus in some countries.
Different variants have emerged in Brazil, California and other areas. A variant called B.1.351, which first appeared in South Africa, may have the ability to re-infect people who have recovered from earlier versions of the coronavirus. It might also be somewhat resistant to some of the coronavirus vaccines in development. Still, other vaccines currently being tested appear to offer protection from severe disease in people infected with B.1.351.

B.1.351: A Coronavirus Variant of Concern?​

One of the main concerns about the coronavirus variants is if the mutations could affect treatment and prevention.
The variant known as B.1.351, which was identified in South Africa, is getting a closer look from researchers, whose early data show that the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca provided “minimal” protection from that version of the coronavirus. Those who became sick from the B.1.351 coronavirus variant after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine experienced mild or moderate illness.
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/hea...ew-strain-of-coronavirus-what-you-should-know
 

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