Just as we thought we were getting a handle on COVID, it finds a new way to kick us in the balls. That’s right, the virus has mutated. And there isn’t just one coronavirus variant, in fact there are lots of COVID-19 mutations popping up around the world. Great fun huh? Fortunately, none of the variants yet match the direction the virus has taken in my story… so that’s a MASSIVE relief. Although I am still on tender hooks, I won’t lie. Now, what do these COVID-19 variants mean for us and our battle against this annoying virus? What COVID mutation is affecting your country? And how will the coronavirus mutation impact upon the vaccines we’re creating?
RNA viruses mutate! That’s why we’re seeing COVID-19 variants
First and foremost, DON’T PANIC. There are two types of viruses, DNA viruses and RNA viruses and both infect the host by making copies of its own cells. DNA viruses are more stable, when the cells replicate, they remain the same. RNA viruses on the other hand are unstable, when they duplicate the new cells differ from the first ones. This is what we call a mutation and this is whats causing the COVID-19 variants. The history of vaccines website has a great article about virus mutations. But essentially what they’re saying is all viruses naturally mutate over time.
COVID is an RNA virus and over the last twelve months, as it’s worked its way around the world infecting us, it has mutated. Hence why we are now seeing COVID-19 variants. Viruses can mutate quickly or slowly, mildly or dramatically, there is no way of knowing what it is going to do. BUT the important thing to remember is “that many of these mutations are minor, and don’t have an overall impact on how fast a virus spreads or potentially how severe a viral infection might be” (breakthroughs.com). New variants emerge, but they often quickly disappear. However, some new variants emerge and persist.
The Coronavirus mutation over the last 12 months
According to the BBC, since the virus was first identified over a year ago, there have been thousands of mutations. Filled with confidence yet? No, nor me. Some expert by the name of Dr Lucy van Dorp has tried to relax us a little by telling us that most mutations are “passengers” and have little impact. What the devil does that mean? Has the virus mutated into a bus, or maybe an airplane? I had no clue what she meant, so my confidence was nowhere near even half full (yes, my glass is always half full and never half empty). But, after more research I THINK (just think, don’t know), what she is trying to say is that the mutations are so slight that the virus acts in the same way as it did before. Pop a comment down below if you think she means something else.
So, if I am correct in what Dr Lucy is saying, there’s been thousands of coronavirus mutations and none of them have been anything to worry about. Phew, panic over. Except it isn’t, because now we have coronavirus mutations that ARE something to worry about, at least, that’s the impression I get from the news. So, let’s look at and understand each new coronavirus variant (at least the one’s we know of at the time I write this, 21st January 2021…let’s face it, next week could be a totally different story).
A look at the COVID-19 mutations (that we’ve spotted so far)
For this part I thought I’d go to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and here I found an article on coronavirus variant information, which was last updated on the 15th January. According to the CDC, there are multiple COVID-19 mutations circulating around the world, including:
The UK COVID mutation
In September 2020 a new COVID mutation was found in the UK and it has a really catchy name. It’s called B.1.1.7, kinda like a spy name. This coronavirus mutation has an unusually large number of mutations. There’s no evidence to suggest that this new variant causes a more severe illness, nor does it increase the chance of death. But it does spread quicker and easier. It has since been detected in lots of other countries around the world including the US and Canada.
The South African Coronavirus variant
Another Coronavirus variant with a secret-agent-like name, the South African variant is fashionably called 1.351. This one was found in October and it shares some of the same mutations as the UK strain. This variant has been found in countries outside of South Africa.
The Brazilian COVID mutation
This one is called the P.1 and it was found in four travellers when they arrived at an airport in Tokyo, Japan, after travelling from Brazil. This variant has a additional mutations that might affect its ability to be recognised by antibodies.
Complications of these COVID-19 mutations
These COVID-19 mutations appear to be spreading quicker and more easily than other variants. For this reason, they are likely to lead to more cases of COVID-19. Again, there’s no evidence to suggest these variants cause a more severe illness, or increase the chances of dying. However, the rise in cases will add strain on health care, lead to more hospitalisations and potentially even more deaths.
How do you feel about the mutations?
It’s hard to know how to feel about all of this. On the one hand, mutations are natural in viruses and most of the time these mutations aren’t anything to worry about. And viruses can actually mutate to become weaker, so I remain hopeful. On the other hand, its scary to think what this virus could mutate into.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Take Care, x
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