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As cases of the Delta variant continue to raise concerns across Asia, many are wondering what other variants are out there and should we feel concerned about? According to WHO, variants of the coronavirus were expected because viruses constantly change through mutation. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants persist. Vaccinations and health protocols are the most effective means of slowing the spread, but some variants appear to spread more easily and quickly than others. So, which variants have been identified thus far? Here’s what we know so far. The World Health Organization currently classifies few variants as “variants of concern” around the world.
Alpha Variant – (B.1.1.7)
The Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7, was discovered in the United Kingdom and quickly spread throughout the world before the Delta variant took hold. According to WHO, the Alpha variant spreads much faster than other variants and may potentially cause more people to become sicker and die. Vaccines are currently being used to combat this variant, though some breakthrough cases have occurred.
Beta Variant – (B.1.351, B.1.351.2, B.1.351.3)
The Beta variant, also known as B.1.315, was discovered in South Africa. This variant may spread faster than other variants, but there is no evidence that it causes “more severe illness or death than other variants.” Certain monoclonal antibody treatments, however, are less effective in treating cases. Vaccines are currently being used to combat it, but some breakthrough cases have been reported.
Delta Variant – (B.1.617.2, AY.1, AY.2, AY.3)
The Delta variant was discovered in India and is now responsible for the majority of COVID cases worldwide. The Delta variant spreads much faster than other variants and, according to WHO, may cause more severe cases than other variants. Delta’s high transmissibility and speed allow it to pick off the more vulnerable more efficiently than previous variants, according to Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, during a news conference on June 21.
There’s also some discussion about a so-called “Delta Plus” variant.
What is the Delta Plus variant?
Delta Plus is a mutation of Delta, its parent variant. Delta acquired an additional mutation called K417N in the spike protein improving the virus’s attachment to infected cells. Scientists discovered 13 new sub-lineages of the Delta Plus strain, three of which are currently in circulation in India – AY.1, AY.2, and AY.3. Until now, Delta plus variant has been detected in several countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, India and continues to spread. The National Centre for Disease Control reported 86 cases of the Delta Plus variant in India on August 9. This August 18.2021, Maharashtra has recorded over 76 cases of Delta Plus. The number may have increased since then, but the question now is whether this variant can fuel an India’s new Covid wave. Deaths among fully vaccinated people are concerning. There is speculation that the Delta Plus variant is evading vaccines. “The AY.1 or Delta Plus variant has immune escape mutations that are concerning.” So far, there hasn’t been any discernible growth in this lineage, but it needs to be closely monitored. The next variant of concern could be as or more transmissible than Delta, but with enough antigenic difference to partially evade antibodies elicited by Delta,” said Dr. Swapneil Parikh of Mumbai. Delta Plus is also resistant to monoclonal antibody treatment, which is extremely expensive (the same one used to treat former United States President Donald Trump last year).
Gamma Variant – (P.1, P.1.1, P.1.2)
The gamma variant was discovered in four travelers arriving from Brazil in Japan in November 2020, and it was discovered in the United States in January 2021. Despite its current prevalence in Brazil, it only accounts for 1% of infections in the United States. Mutations in the gamma variant’s spike protein, like the beta variant’s, make it better at evading neutralizing antibodies, so people who have previously had COVID-19 or are vaccinated may still experience reinfection or breakthrough infection.
What other variants are being monitored?
There are a number of “variants of interest” in addition to the four variants of concern: Mu, Lambda, Eta, Iota, Kappa, are among the variants of interest, according to WHO and The Epsilon, Zeta, and Theta COVID-19 variants are “variants of interest,” ,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They were downgraded from the WHO list, though experts are still keeping tabs on them. The CDC states that a variant is classified as a variant of interest if it shows “specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.”
The World Health Organization recently designated the Mu variant as a new “variant of interest” of the coronavirus. It was discovered for the first time in Colombia in January 2021, and has since been discovered in approximately 39 countries. Mu has undergone changes known as mutations, which indicate that it may be able to evade some of the protection provided by COVID vaccines. However, despite its existence since January 2021, it does not appear to be outcompeting Delta, the dominant variant in most of the world.
Because of those new genetic markers, the WHO in mid-June declared lambda a “variant of interest”. This variant has been monitored as an alert for an extended period, and upon more information and updated assessments, is now considered as meeting the VOI working definition based upon evidence of continued emergence and suspected phenotypic implications. The Lambda variant has been detected in 29 countries so far, and it may spread faster than milder versions of the coronavirus. The variant, also known as C.37, has been spreading rapidly in South America, particularly in Peru, where the first documented samples of the virus were discovered in December 2020.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, it accounts for nearly 71 percent of COVID-19 cases since January 2021 and nearly 82 percent of case samples in May and June 2021. (PAHO). Peru is one of the countries that has suffered the most from the coronavirus, with 187,000 people killed and one of the highest mortality rates in the world. The WHO reported mid-June that the lambda variant had shown vaccine resistance in the lab, and Japanese researchers discovered that this variant is more infectious and resistant to vaccines than the original version of the virus that emerged from Wuhan, China. However, there are no published studies on this variant, only a few preprints – papers that have yet to be peer-reviewed. Further studies are also required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines with the Lambda Variant. August 15.2021, The Philippines’ health ministry said having detected the first case of COVID-19’s Lambda variant in the country.
The Eta variant or B.1.525 was first identified in Nigeria and the United Kingdom in December 2020, according to reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). WHO and The CDC classified it as a ‘Variant of Intrest’ (VOI. According to the CDC, the Eta variant is “identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside an increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.” Since the Eta variant is being monitored for its potential to reduce the effectiveness of some monoclonal antibody treatments, according to the CDC. This new strain is very different from other COVID-19 strains. It contains both the F888L and E484K mutations. Moreover, the strain does not carry the N501Y mutation like the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma COVID-19 strains. However, it shares the N439K mutation with Gamma, Beta and, Zeta variants. Additionally, it carries deletions of histidine and valine at 69 and 70 positions. This is similar to the Alpha, N439K, and Y453K variants. The Eta variant reappeared this July in Karnataka India which is witnessing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases since the last week of July.
The B.1.526 variant of SARS-CoV-2, also known as the lota variant, was first identified in New York City in November 2020. Later, the variant has been detected in all 52 states in the United States, as well as in 34 countries across the world. A study conducted at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, USA, and the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, USA, has determined that the variant has considerably higher transmissibility and immune escape potential than previously circulating variants and that it can increase the infection fatality rate by 62% – 82% among older adults. The study is currently available on the medRxiv* preprint server. As observed in a laboratory-based study, this variant is modestly resistant to neutralization by therapeutic monoclonal antibodies and vaccine/infection-induced antibodies. In contrast, evidence indicates that the variant does not increase the risk of breakthrough infections in vaccinated or previously infected individuals.
The Epsilon variant is not new. It was first detected in California in 2020, is also known as B.1.429 and CAL.20C, and has five defining mutations. According to a July publication, the Epsilon strain can completely evade lab-made antibodies and reduce the effectiveness of antibodies generated in vaccinated people’s plasma. Researchers at the University of Washington came to the same conclusion, claiming that the variant is more resistant to vaccines and is 20% more transmissible than current variants. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) had earlier declared it a ‘’Variant of Concern’ but revised later to a ‘Variant of Interest’. However, on July 6, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated it under ‘alerts for further monitoring’. According to a recent report, a new COVID-19 variant, Epsilon, has been detected this august 2021 in Pakistan in its fourth wave with the detection of five new cases of Epsilon strain in Lahore. Medical experts in Pakistan believe the Epsilon variant to be vaccine-resistant and have declared it as the new threat for vaccinated people who might get infected again. The variant is considered highly infectious and as transmissible as the Delta variant.
The Theta variant was first identified in the Philippines on February 18, 2021 and then in Japan on March 12, 2021. This variant is distinct from those first discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, and will pose a similar threat. The variant is more resistant to neutralizing antibodies, including those gained through vaccination, like how the South African and Brazilian variants appear to be. For WHO World Health Organization, P.3 Theta variant, is considered a variant of interest (VOI), but not yet a variant of concern.
The Zeta variant or B.1.621 was first detected in circulation in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In July 2021, Zeta was no longer considered a “Variant of interest” by the WHO. However, this august 2021 The Washington Post reported that the B.1.621 variant has made its way to South Florida…
The kappa variant, or B.1.617.1, was first found in India in October 2020 and is closely related to the dangerous Delta variant. According to experts, the variant, is a double mutant strain of the virus that has raised red flags and prompted global gene surveillance to check for its prevalence and propagation even if the variant is not a major concern at the moment. However, beginning of August 2021, Seven residents of a nursing home in Belgium, who had all been vaccinated against Covid-19, have died after being infected with the Kappa variant. This August 2021, two cases of the Kappa strain of Covid-19 were reported in Uttar Pradesh after two patients were identified with having the Delta plus strain in Deoria and Gorakhpur.
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