The new COVID-19 variants: What you need to know
One of the biggest pandemics of our time is COVID-19. But this one has spawned a variety of variants all around the world. New details emerge as quickly as each COVID-19 variant strain appears, with scientists anxiously searching for information about how quickly each can spread, how COVID-19 variant symptoms vary among the strains and, perhaps most importantly, how well the currently authorized vaccines can protect you from getting sick. With new COVID-19 variants arising around the globe, you need to know the differences among them to stay well informed about the virus.
What’s the difference between a variant and a variant strain of a virus?
A variant of a virus occurs when there’s a change in the genes of a virus, but not in the way it behaves. This change is called a mutation and it’s only natural for this to happen since the basic nature of a virus is to constantly change and evolve. A mutation isn’t new itself, but it may spawn a new version of the original virus. If a mutation doesn’t affect the behavior of a virus, it’s simply considered a variant. But if the mutation makes the virus behave differently to some degree, it becomes known as a variant strain.
How does a COVID-19 variant strain differ from the original?
With every COVID-19 variant, US scientists have found each to be similar to the original and other variants, yet one of the main differences is that each new COVID-19 variant strain appears to spread faster and more easily than ones before. As a result, this may lead to many more cases of COVID-19, along with more sickness, hospitalizations, and potential fatalities. While these new variant strains seem to be more contagious, there isn’t any clear evidence yet that the sickness they could cause would be more severe.
How many COVID-19 variant strains have been found so far?
COVID-19 isn’t only a US epidemic, but a global pandemic that’s been affecting and infecting people all over the world. As a result, new COVID-19 variant strains have been traced to several countries, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. Unfortunately, these new variant strains have spread as quickly as the original virus and have been found all over the world.
What is the COVID-19 variant strain from the United Kingdom?
In September 2020, a COVID-19 variant strain was detected in the UK that appears to spread quicker and more easily than similar variant strains. Scientists noticed its contagiousness when it spawned a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases where it emerged. This surge continued beyond the borders of the UK as countries around the world soon experienced this new COVID-19 variant. US cases were first uncovered at the end of 2020. With this new COVID-19 variant, symptoms mainly include a persistent cough, fatigue, muscle aches, fever, and a sore throat. Interestingly, people infected with this variant strain are less likely to lose their sense of taste or smell.
How is the South African variant strain different from the original virus and other variant strains?
Another variant strain was found in South Africa in October 2020. While this one arose separately from the one in the UK, the South African variant strain shares several similarities with it, including the same COVID-19 variant symptoms. These similarities can make it difficult for the existing test to distinguish this new COVID-19 variant. US scientists first reported cases of the South African variant strain in Americans in January 2021.
What is the Brazilian variant strain?
In late January 2021, a third COVID-19 variant strain was traced to the Amazon city of Manaus, Brazil, when South American travelers were screened at a Japanese airport. This variant strain has caused great concern because it contains unique mutations that can make the virus more contagious and better able to reinfect COVID-19 survivors. While this strain may be one of the easiest to transmit, it has the same COVID-19 variant symptoms as prior strains. As with every other new COVID-19 variant, US cases have already appeared—this time in Minnesota.
Are there any additional precautions to take?
While these new variant strains may behave differently than the original virus, it’s important to practice the same precautions to protect yourself and slow the spread. Experts recommend the following guidelines:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
- If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
- Wear a mask in public places, especially when social distancing is difficult.
- Stay at least six feet apart from people outside of your household.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces you touch often.
- When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow. Then immediately throw the tissue away.
With new COVID-19 variant strains appearing at a rapid rate, awareness can give you a healthy advantage. If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19, speak to your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor to protect yourself and your loved ones. Better safe than sick.