What we know about the new COVID-19 strains
Seeing healthcare workers, family, and friends get a COVID-19 vaccine can give us hope that we are starting to stem the tide of the pandemic. But what about the new variant strains of COVID-19? All viruses mutate over time. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19 infections, is no exception. While most mutations have little impact in normal viruses, understanding the new strains is important since we are still in the midst of the pandemic.
Understandably, the new strains are causing concern. Will the vaccines be effective against the new strains? Are the new strains more infectious? Are they more deadly? We will share what we know about four prominent strains. Because they are all new, there is much that is unknown at this time. Studies are ongoing to help answer many questions. Below are answers based on what we know now to some frequently asked questions to help keep you and your community healthy.
What are the new COVID-19 strains?
- The West Coast strain (B.1.427 & B.1.429) – Two separate strains that are closely related. This strain is a growing concern in California. It may not respond as well to some medication (monoclonal antibody) treatments.
- The U.K. strain (B.1.1.7) – First discovered in the United Kingdom in September 2020. Has now been detected in several countries. An early UK report suggests there is a possibility it might be associated with an increased risk of death. However, more research is needed.
- The Brazil strain (P.1) – First identified in travelers coming from Brazil. Might be resistant to antibodies from previous exposure or vaccines. This could lead to reinfection of the virus.
- The South Africa strain (B 1.351) – Initially emerged from South Africa. It is now found in multiple countries. Shares similar mutations with the U.K. strain. There is currently no evidence suggesting that it leads to more or less severe symptoms.
What are the symptoms of the new strains?
There are no definitive answers, yet. Most (but not all) research so far does not suggest that the new strains are more deadly or cause more severe illness compared to the original COVID-19 strain. More studies are needed before drawing any definitive conclusions.
How easily can the new strains be spread?
The state and the CDC are still learning how easily the new strains can be spread. Some strains do appear to be more easily and quickly spread. The West Coast strain may spread 20% more easily than COVID-19. The U.K. and South Africa strains may spread 50% more easily than COVID-19. The Brazil strain might not be recognized by antibodies, increasing risk of reinfection or spread even after vaccination. More research is needed on all strains before drawing conclusions about the severity of illness or risk of spreading the virus.
How can I protect myself against the new strains?
You are most likely already doing what you can to help curb the spread of all strains of the virus and protect yourself from getting sick. Continue to follow the common sense protocols laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Wash your hands.
- Wear a mask.
- Social distance.
- Avoid mixing households.
- Follow local regulations.
You can also get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you. This will help protect you from getting the original strain of COVID-19. Also, new research on the Moderna vaccine shows that it may be as effective against the UK strain as the original strain. More research is needed to know how effective the vaccines are against the new strains. But at a minimum, they will help with what is still the most common strain. The current vaccines may still be at least partially effective against new strains, even if not to as high a degree. This means any illness from a new strain may be less severe even if not completely prevented.
The pandemic has been tough for many of us. And the new strains can seem like a setback. While there are still a lot of questions, we trust the scientists who are tirelessly working to help curb the spread of the virus. In the meantime, we are here to help you get the answers – and the care – you need.
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