COVID-19 variants

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Delta variant is prevalent among current COVID-19 cases, but it isn't the only variant doctors are watching.

Dr. Mark Burns, an infectious disease specialist with UofL Health, said all viruses want to replicate, and in that process, mutations or "errors" can occur, some of which end up being inconsequential.

"On occasion, you'll get a variation of the virus, which is basically a mutational change in the virus," Burns said. "(Some variants) can make them a little more lethal and a little more transmissible, OK, and those are the ones — those particular mutations or those variants that occur — that's what makes us concerned."

Burns said in a majority of cases — when someone with COVID-19 is tested — those specimens are sent to a lab for genetic sequencing to determine what type of COVID-19 a person has. Currently, the World Health Organization has Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta listed as variants of concern. Five others, including Lambda and Mu, are considered variants of interest.

"The Lambda variant — that hybrid that was over in Peru — that doesn't appear to be becoming as transmissible as we thought it was which is a good thing," Burns said.

But Mu is being found in many specimens, what Burns calls isolates.

"In Colombia, in South America, it's in a large number, in over 70% of the isolates there," Burns said. "And so they realized that it is now problematic, because it is showing up, and now, it's starting to spread throughout the world." 

Mu has been found in the U.S. but makes up less than 1% of cases.

Burns said the vaccines are still effective against Mu and other current variants, though the variants do decrease the efficiency "some."

"(If) this goes on long enough, eventually, the variants will work their way or evade the protections that we have from the vaccines," Burns said. "At that point, it is extremely problematic."

For Burns, the simplest solution is for everyone to get vaccinated.

"That's why it's incumbent upon all of us to become vaccinated," he said. "So that these viruses cannot reproduce, they cannot mutate, because if they don't replicate, they won't mutate, and then it would eventually die out."

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