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The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

COVID-19 variants across the world

By Jorden Demerritte
Staff Writer

What is the current coronavirus called?

The current virus responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic comes from a family of viruses called coronavirus, specifically from the SARS-CoV-2 strain. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a mutated strain of coronavirus, with crown-like spikes on the surface.

The image above highlights the unique crown-like spikes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. (Photo courtesy of: Dr_Microbe)

How many variants are there now?

The term strain inaccurately refers to the mutated versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus because it already stands as a mutated strain of COVID-19. The accurate term is variant, which is used to describe the different versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

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Since SARS-CoV-2 was identified in December 2019, it has had over a year to mutate. With time, new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have evolved into what we now know as the UK, South African, Brazilian, and Californian variants. 

UK variants

The B.1.525 variant was discovered in December 2020 in the UK. This variant has mutations that could potentially evade antibodies. However, there is still not enough research regarding the possibility of the B.1.525 causing higher transmissibility and more severe effects in humans.

The B.1.1.7 variant, commonly referred to as the UK variant, was first reported in the UK in September 2020 with 23 mutations. The variant reached the US at the end of December 2020. The UK variant’s mutations have been revealed to have higher transmissibility than other variants, being 50% more contagious and 30% more deadly than SARS-CoV-2.

South African variant 

The B.1.351 variant, also known as the South African variant, was first detected in early October of 2020 and was reported in the US at the end of January 2021. It has since been transmitted to 23 countries. The South African variant’s mutations include the E484K mutation, which makes vaccines less effective, and the N501Y mutation, which determines how the virus infects the body’s cells. The current concerns surrounding this strain are its higher contagion rates and its ability to make vaccines less effective.

Brazilian variant 

The B.1.1.248 (or P.1) variant, also referred to as the Brazilian variant, was first detected in early January 2021 when Brazilian travelers entered Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The first case was reported in the US at the end of January 2021. As the variant spread, cases drastically grew in numbers in Manaus, Brazil, leading to a 125% rise in infection rates.
B.1.1.248 also contains a series of mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.

California variant

Although the B.1.429 (or CAL.20C) variant was first detected in July 2020, its reemergence in October 2020 received much more attention. By October, the B.1.429 variant made up 35% of all coronavirus variants in California. The variant has two mutations in the spike protein, which has raised concern about a potential increase in virus transmissibility and vaccine effectiveness. 

Unnamed variants

The B.1.525 variant, an unnamed variant, was found in Europe and Africa in December 2020. The B.1.525 variant has mutations similar to the Brazilian and South African variants, which increase resistance to antibodies. 

Another unnamed variant, the B.1.2 variant, was also located in the South and Southwest of the United States in October 2020.

What is recombination?

Recombination is a natural and common part of the evolution of the coronavirus. Recombination occurs when the enzyme that replicates genomes slips off the RNA while it is copying data and then joins back where it left off. This leads to host cells having different coronavirus genomes, creating a hybrid virus. 

What are the risks of variants?

Variants can spread quicker and faster, which would lead to more COVID-19 cases. Increases in hospitalizations and deaths would put a strain on health care systems across the globe. 

What is not known about these variants? 

  1. How effective will vaccines be when treating these SARS-CoV-2 variants?
  2. How widely have the variants spread?
  3. How do the symptoms from the disease, COVID-19, differ among these variants?

What are scientists trying to understand about these variants?

  1. Does the virus spread quicker from person-to-person?
  2. Do the variants cause more mild or severe effects in people?
  3. Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against these variants?

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COVID-19 variants across the world