What is the meaning of a new virus variant? Where did this new variant come from?
A new variant of the virus is nothing but a slightly different virus as compared to the currently prevalent one, which emerges through changes (or mutations) in the virus’s genes.
The emergence of new virus variants is a completely natural process, it is neither unnatural nor unexpected. Viruses, including the coronavirus, constantly change over time. While some virus variants may emerge and disappear, some variants might persist after emergence.
Are the new variants responsible for the recent sudden increase in COVID cases?
At the moment, the mutant strain has not been found to be causing the resurgence of cases being noticed in some of the Indian states, as per the Union Health Ministry. Currently, the surge is solely COVID inappropriate behavior among people, public gatherings of masses, and reduction in testing, tracking and tracing.
What is mutation and how do viruses mutate?
Viruses undergo mutations constantly, especially the ones having RNA as genetic material. All viruses contain either RNA or DNA as their genetic material which is protected with a covering of protein. When the virus enters your body, it attaches itself to one of your cells and starts replicating. Sometimes, while replicating, their genetic material undergoes a change. This is called a mutation. Usually, these mutations are minor and don’t really impact the virus’s ability. They can even weaken the virus. But, sometimes, the mutation may make it easier for the virus to replicate and spread.
How can we stay protected from these variants?
The guidelines remain the same for all the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The experts are constantly emphasizing that the best and the most effective way to ensure protection against all variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus is by following COVID appropriate behavior. This includes:
– wearing a mask
– staying at least 6 feet apart from people
– disinfecting surfaces
– sanitizing hands
– avoiding social gatherings or maintaining ventilation in such spaces
– getting vaccinated when your turn comes
Remember to follow all the COVID- appropriate precautions even after getting vaccinated.
Can we get re-infected with the new variants if you’ve recovered for some other variant of COVID-19?
People who have recovered from COVID-19 usually have some temporary protection against a re-infection. This happens because they develop antibodies against the virus. But, in the words of Dr. Randeep Gulleria, many of the current variants have developed an immune escape mechanism that may allow them to evade the immunity gained by people through previous infections. The best ways to stay protected remain the same – wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, sanitizing hands and surfaces frequently, and maintaining social distancing.
Will the vaccines work against the new variants?
Broadly speaking, yes. Vaccines help develop a broad immune response which can provide protection against many variants. Even in the small possibility if the vaccine efficacy experiences a slight reduction, it should still be able to reduce chances of severe infections in the takers. However, vaccine developers and experts are continuously studying the effect of the vaccine on the variants so that vaccines can be updated as required.
So, make sure to get vaccinated when you get a chance.
Are these new variants specific to India?
No, the two variants of the coronavirus (being referred as new Indian variants), named N440K and E484K, have been detected in other countries. In fact, the E484K variant was visible in India during March-July 2020 as well.
As already mentioned, there are multiple variants circulating around the world. The major variants that have now spread to many countries, including India are the United Kingdom (UK) variant, the Brazil variant and the South African variant.