Coronavirus Variations: Here’s What We Know

Its arrival has led to travel restrictions, high-level government meetings, and vaccine manufacturers promising to start working on specific vaccines for the prevention.

But there is a long way to go to take over Delta, the variant that dominates the world. And the long list of variations that initially terrify the world before falling off the map could be a reminder that viruses are unpredictable.

Here’s a look at the named coronavirus variants.

WHO designates coronavirus variants as variants of concern – meaning they look dangerous enough to be subject to close monitoring and constant updates – either as variants of interest or variants that are in progress. followed. There are currently only five that meet the definition for variants of interest: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.


The first sample of the Omicron or B.1.1.529 line was obtained on November 9, according to WHO. It is notable for the increase in cases in South Africa.

“This new variant, B.1.1.529 seems to go viral!” Tulio de Oliveira, director of the South African Center for Epidemiological Response and Innovation, and a genetics researcher at Stellenbosch University, said on Twitter.

In addition, genetic sequencing revealed that it carried a worryingly large number of mutations on the mutant protein – the knob-like structure on the surface of the virus that it uses to attach itself to the cells it infects. .

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Some of those mutations have been recognized from other variants and are known to make them more dangerous, including one called E484K that can make the virus harder to recognize for certain antibodies. bodies – immune system proteins that are the basis of frontline defense against infection and the basis of monoclonal antibody therapy.

It also carries a mutation called N501Y, which increases the transmissibility of both Alpha and Gamma. Just last week, Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch and colleagues Reported in the journal Nature that this particular mutation made the virus better replicate in the upper respiratory tract – think in the nose and throat – and potentially made it more likely to spread when people breathe, sneeze and cough.

Like Delta, Omicron also carries a mutation called D614G, which seems to help the virus stick to the cells it infects better.

“An increased number of mutations doesn’t mean the new variant will cause any problems; although it can make it look different to the immune system,” said Dr Peter English, former chair of Public Health of the British Medical Association Commission, said in a statement.

What worries scientists is the number of mutations that affect the spike protein. That’s because most of the leading vaccines target the spike protein. Vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and others use only small pieces or genetic sequences of the virus, not the whole virus, and all use use bits of mutant protein to stimulate immunity. So a change in the mutant protein that makes it less recognizable to immune system proteins and cells stimulated by the vaccine would be a problem.

New Omicron variant is a kind of pandemic gut check

So far, there is no evidence that this has happened but there is no way to tell by just looking at the mutations. Researchers will have to wait and see if there are more breakthrough infections caused by Omicron than other variants.

Another fear is that mutations could help make the virus less susceptible to monoclonal antibody treatments. However, the WHO said it was unlikely that these mutations would affect other Covid-19 treatments, including the antiviral drug being developed and the steroid dexamethasone.

So far, Omicron has been detected in several countries, including South Africa and Botswana, and among travelers to Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Great Britain, Italy, Israel and Austria, according to the report. GISAID database, as well as Canada, according to officials.

An extra layer of testing is needed above and beyond the standard tests for infection detection to tell which variant of the coronavirus has infected someone. Gene sequencing has to be done and takes more time than rapid antigen testing or PCR testing.

What we know about the Omicron . variant

It is too early to say whether Omicron is causing more severe illness, although a doctor who treats several patients in South Africa told Reuters her patient had only mild symptoms. Dr Angelique Coetzee, GP and president of the South African Medical Association, said: “The most common clinical complaint is severe fatigue for a day or two, followed by headache and body aches. ache”.

But doctors agree that vaccination has the potential to offer a lot of protection against Omicron and encourage people to get it if they haven’t already. Note: Just less than 24% of South Africa total vaccinated population. The country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, says only 35% of South African adults are fully vaccinated. And South Africa has many people with HIV – which suppresses the immune system – who are currently untreated and may be more susceptible to infection.

Those factors may have influenced the rise of this variant in South Africa as opposed to countries where more people are vaccinated and less susceptible to immunocompromised conditions.

Physical barriers will also work against any mutant viruses. These include masks, hand washing, physical distancing, and good ventilation. “Many uncertainties but we know what works against CoV-19: – improve indoor ventilation – quality masks/respirators – avoid crowds indoors – stay away – control investigate, isolate, quarantine – vax + boost now for Delta,” Dr Jeffrey Duchin, Seattle & King County health officer, tweeted Sunday.

NIH Director: New Covid-19 Variant & # 39;  must double & # 39;  immunization and mitigation efforts

While experts say they are watching closely, some say they are not particularly worried about Omicron yet.

“I don’t think we should panic,” Robert Garry, professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine, told CNN.

Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the Department of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, told CNN: “The sky is not falling. “We don’t see any evidence that Omicron causes any more serious illness than any other variant.”


The Delta variant of the coronavirus is currently the dominant strain in the United States and much of the world. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant accounts for 99.9% of cases in the US.

Also known as B.1.617.2, it is clearly more transmissible than other variants, but it remains unclear whether it causes more severe disease.

It was quickly superseded from variant B.1.1.7, or Alpha, in most countries.

Delta also carries a group of mutations on the mutant protein. It can also evade the immune system, meaning that people who have been infected with an older variant may be more susceptible to the disease again. It also excludes the effects of a monoclonal antibody treatment called bamlaniximab, made by Eli Lilly and Company, but is susceptible to the protections of other monoclonal antibody treatments.


First identified as a worrisome variant last December, the B.1.1.7 or Alpha variant of the coronavirus alarmed public health officials last spring. It swept through England quickly and then spread around the world, quickly becoming the dominant lineage in the United States. It has now been downgraded to “Variate Under surveillance” by the CDC because of its low impact in the US.

It was shown to be at least 50% more transmissible than older strains. It carries 23 mutations, including one called N501Y that increases transmissibility.

It is completely sensitive to monoclonal antibody treatments and vaccines.


First seen in South Africa, the B.1.351 or Beta variant with both the E484K mutation which is implicated in immune escape and the N501Y mutation is suspected to help make many other variants more contagious . It has been shown to be 50% more transmissible than older strains and avoids treatment with Lilly’s double monoclonal antibody, but not other strains.

Both blood tests and real-life use have shown it can infect people who have recovered from coronavirus and also those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Vaccine manufacturers trying to overcome new variants by developing booster shots have focused on B.1.351, as this is the variant that scientists are most concerned about could incapacitate vaccine protection. But partial escape does not mean complete escape, and vaccines are still expected to provide some degree of protection.

It was overtaken by Delta in South Africa and never gained much foothold in the US, despite the anxiety it caused, and is now designated a Variant under surveillance by the CDC.


The P.1 or Gamma variant that swept through Brazil also never gained much foothold elsewhere and is now also a CDC variant being monitored.

Gamma carries both E484K and N501Y mutations, with more than 30 others. It has been shown to avoid the effects of treatment with Lilly’s monoclonal antibody but not made by Regeneron. Blood tests suggest it may be partly immune to the natural and vaccine-induced immune responses.

Variants of interest WHO

Lambda: Lambda or C.37 was designated a Variant of Concern by WHO in June. CDC does not mention it.

Mu: Mu or B.1.621 caused a flurry of fear when it was declared a Variant of Concern by WHO in August, but it quickly disappeared. It is currently designated a Variant under surveillance by the CDC.

Variants monitored by CDC

All of the following variations are listed by CDC as variations are tracked.

Epsilon: Variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 are often lumped together and are known as Epsilon. First seen in California, this one had the same L452R mutation carried by Delta, but not some of its other mutations, and did not develop the way Delta had.

South African researchers remain wary of another new coronavirus variant

Iota: First seen in New York last November, the B.1,526 or Iota variant was initially widespread, accounting for 9% of samples last April, but it is now almost gone. It has a so-called 484 mutation that makes it easier for the virus to attach to the cells it infects and makes it less likely for the immune system to recognize the virus.

Eta: First seen in the UK and Nigeria, Eta, also known as B.1.525, carries the E484K mutation. It has also almost disappeared.

Zeta: Circulating in Brazil since last year, this variant, also known as P.2, also carries the E484K mutation and has not been found globally. It’s almost disappeared in the US, according to the CDC.

No variant is specified Nu or Xi. The WHO decided that “Nu” sounds too similar to the English word “new” and Xi is a common surname.


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