Sectional view of the COVID virus with RNA insidePhoto: vchal (Shutterstock)

Viruses mutate; really everything. However, experts are now concerned about some of the thousands of coronavirus variants that have appeared around the world. We wrote about the UK variant last month;; Now there are more, including one in Los Angeles. You don’t need to panic. But it is to be well informed.

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One of the main reasons we’re seeing new varieties now, a year after the pandemic started, is because there are so many more viruses than there were 12 months ago. The more viruses there are in the world, the more likely they are to mutate. And the more variants there are, the greater the chance that some of them will be bad news.

If we (as a global community) had contained the virus any better, we might not have gotten to a point where there are multiple variants that are different enough to worry the experts. But here we are.

Another thing to remember is that the only way to find variants is by searching for them. The British variant B.1.1.7 was discovered in part because the UK does many so-called surveillance tests – to monitor exactly what types of coronavirus there are. The US does some of it too, but a lot less. Variant B.1.1.7 was probably already in other countries when it was discovered in Great Britain. They just hadn’t found it yet.

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Which variants do you need to know?

B.1.1.7 was found in the UK in November 2020, where it has likely been in circulation since September or earlier. This New York Times article has more details about the strain and its mutations. It appears to be 50% more transmissible than a typical COVID virus. It has several mutations, including eight on the spike protein.

(The spike protein is the part of the virus that interacts with our cells. If we make antibodies against the spike protein, those antibodies can prevent the virus from infecting us. The mRNA vaccines contain the genetic code of the spike protein allows our cells to make the protein and then make antibodies against it.)

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B.1.1.7 is more communicable, but the disease it causes doesn’t seem worse than usual.

B.1.351 was discovered in South Africa in samples from October 2020 and also shows mutations in the spike protein. It appears to be more transmissible than typical COVID, but it doesn’t change the severity of the disease. Both these and the UK share a mutation called N501Y. A recent study that was published as a preprintfound that the Pfizer vaccine with this mutation appears to protect against variants.

P.1 is a variant from Brazil that was first discovered in December 2020. It also has mutations that appear to be of concern, including the spike protein. One of its mutations, E484K, may be able to evade antibodies. There are a few Reason to believe that people have recovered from a previous case of COVID can be infected by these mutations.

CAL.20C is a variant that to become popular in Los Angeles. We don’t know much about it yet.

Science is still very new for all of these variants. The things we know about them are preliminary. None of them seem to cause any more serious illness; Most are likely to be susceptible to the vaccines in place. and PCR testing still seems to be able to detect it.

They have also often become the dominant tribes in their locations, but with some variants, there is some chicken and egg problem with determining whether or not they are responsible for spikes in certain cases.

What’s happening now?

Two things. Initially, scientists are working to answer the unanswered questions about these variants.

For example, we have to find out whether and by how much they are really transferrable. We need to know if the variants can evade our natural immunity (which would mean you could catch the virus twice) and whether they can evade the immunity of the various vaccines and vaccine candidates already in place. We need to know if any of the variants cause a more severe disease or if there are clinical differences. And we need to step up our surveillance in each country to find new variants and see where existing variants take control.

If it turns out that new variants can evade existing vaccines, the vaccines may need to be updated in a timely manner. We do this every year for the flu vaccine; We may have to do the same for the COVID vaccine.

But the other element of action is simpler, if still difficult: we need to do the same things that we did for prevention, only to a greater extent. If any variant is more communicable, it’s even more important to wear masks and stay home and take tests seriously. It is especially important that people receive vaccines as soon as possible. With that in mind, our main measures to fight the virus have not changed, even if the virus changes.