It is now almost two years since the pandemic began, and we have all been affected in one way or the other by the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. It is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, amid a respiratory illness outbreak. It has since been reported in different parts of the world, and in March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic.
People that contract the virus experience mild to moderate symptoms. With many have these symptoms; fever, cough, tiredness, loss of taste and smell. Those with severe Covid experience; difficulty breathing/ shortness of breath. Chest pain, loss of speech, or mobility.
As the world was dealing with the pandemic, in December 2020, news media reported a new variant of the coronavirus. Over time there have been thousands of different kinds of variants interspersing in the world.
What causes the virus to mutate?
According to WHO, all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 included change and mutate over time. And though most mutations do not affect the virus’ properties, some mutations do affect its properties. These changes affect factors such as how first the virus spreads, its potency, how well the vaccines perform against, how effective medicines used to manage it work, and even how diagnostic tools are used.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Covid-19 virus has mutated, resulting in different variants of the virus. These variants have been named after Greek alphabets and include; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Zeta, Mu.
How are these variants classified?
With the virus mutating as first as it was, the CDC established a way to monitor the resulting variants. The variants were assigned Variants Being Monitored. Data was analyzed to establish whether a particular variant showed any potential of causing severe disease or increased transmission and at what level the virus circulating in the U.S.
The variants were either designated Variant of Interest (VOI), Variant of Concern. The former shows changes in specific markers and requires that one or more appropriate health actions such as surveillance. On the other hand, the latter shows evidence of increased transmissibility and more severe disease and requires not only increased surveillance but notification of WHO. A third category, Variant of High Consequence (VOHC), holds variants that have shown that prevention methods and medical countermeasures have reduced the transmissibility of the variant.
The Delta Variant
This strain of Covid was first spotted and identified in India in December 2020. In no time, the Delta Variant swept through India, spreading to Britain, and finally reached the U.S. The Delta variant is more contagious than any other virus strain, believed to be twice as contagious as previous variants.
Evidence has shown that the Delta Variant has caused severe symptoms that have put more people in the hospital than the previous strains. It is also highly transmissible, making it one of the deadliest strains yet. And because of the factors above, the Delta Variant has been assigned the Variant of Concern VOC label.
The new Omicron Variant
This new strain has health experts especially worried because it is very different from the original Covid-19 strain, and because of this, WHO designated it a variant of concern on 26 November 2021.
There isn’t much known about this variant, but researchers in South Africa and around the world are toward understanding this new variant better. And since very little is known about the variant, it is still very early to advise on its transmissibility and the severity of the disease. That remains so even as many South Africans test positive for this new variant. However, there seems to be no indication that these new variant is causing symptoms too different from other strains.
While vaccines are effective on the other strains of Covid-19, WHO is still working to establish whether this new strain will affect countermeasures such as vaccines, it is, however, still possible to detect it using the PCR test and current treatments such as Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blocker will remain effective, according to WHO.