COVID-19 Variants: All You Need to Know

The CDC and WHO have been tracking COVID-19 variants that may be more transmissible or lead to more severe diseases.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 variants, from symptoms, and how far vaccines work against them.

How many strains of COVID-19 are there?

A new strain occurs when a virus goes through one or more mutations that change its behaviour in some way, but a variant develops when a virus goes through a mutation of any kind.

There are many variants, but a few are concerning because they appear to be spreading more quickly” and could “possibly replace the previously dominant variants.

Here’s a breakdown of the concerning COVID-19 variants and what to know about each:

Variants of Concern (VOC)

  1. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta

Associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance-

  1. Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology

  2. Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation

  3. Decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.

Variants of Interest (VOI)

  1. Eta, Lota, Kappa, Lambda

A SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape

Identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters in various countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside the increasing number of cases over time.

Which COVID-19 variants are more deadly?

In the present situation, the Delta variant is behind the devastating second wave in India and is believed to be the most contagious of the variants circulating at the moment and can lead to more death. It may also have an increased risk of hospitalization.

The Lambda Variant has so far been detected in over 30 countries and could be more dangerous than the widely prevalent Delta variant.

It is believed that the Lambda variant was responsible for some 82% of the new coronavirus cases reported in Peru.

Do the new variants have different symptoms?

Currently, none of the new variants has been associated with new or different symptoms, and the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Fever or chills, Cough, Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Fatigue, Muscle or body aches, Headache, Loss of taste or smell, Sore throat, Congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, Diarrhea

Are COVID-19 vaccines effective against these strains?

According to WHO, the vaccines are effective against the Alpha variant, and they’re likely effective against the Gamma and Delta variants, as well, but the evidence at this stage is very limited. It also appears that they can reduce the risk of severe and mild to moderate illness from the Beta variant.

While COVID-19 vaccines could offer good protection against the new variants- at this stage, though, one thing remains clear- existing methods to prevent transmission of COVID-19 are still the most effective strategies.

These include getting vaccinated, masking, or even double masking, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and washing your hands regularly.

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