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Variants of concern, so … what?

Connecting the Dots

Perhaps you’ve been to Virden’s pop-up clinic last Wednesday. By May 5 your body will have had 14 days to use the information injected on April 21 to develop immunity against SARS-CoV2, both the original and variants, we believe.

Here’s what we know about variant B.1.1.7, the U.S.’s dominant coronavirus strain.

In recent weeks, public health workers have seen an increase in COVID-19 linked to more transmissible variants. Variants of concern (VOC), particularly B.1.1.7, now make up a large percent of new infections in Manitoba. Other variants are still rare.

An article by Erin Garcia de Jesús in the April 19 edition of Science News answered questions about variants.

A VOC came to light in December 2020, when the United Kingdom announced a new and rapidly spreading variant. In early 2021, the first case showed up in the United States.

At the end of March, B.1.1.7 was found in Manitoba and Dr. Brent Roussin then told us the VOC is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2.

Numerous studies support the initial finding; B.1.1.7 is more contagious by around 40 to 70 percent. But, once caught, is it more deadly? And, what makes it more contagious?

The current hypothesis for its high transmission rate is that a mutation in the spike protein which helps the coronavirus break into cells also allows the virus to attach more tightly to the cell’s protein. So, it’s a criminal, better at B & E, and more of it can get into more cells and stick.

Another possibility, says de Jesús, is that B.1.1.7 hangs out in the body for longer than other variants, giving people more time to transmit it. Or, it could cause certain symptoms, such as a cough, which might help the virus spread.

B.1.1.7 leads to more cases ending up in the hospital. De Jesús said researchers didn’t see an increased risk of death even after adjusting for factors such as age, underlying conditions or ethnicity.

Although some mutations seen in B.1.1.7 raised concerns that the variant could dodge parts of the immune response, evidence is building that vaccines and previous infections are still protective.

Studies that focus on the ability of a vaccine or prior infection to protect from the other less common variants are inconclusive. Just this week, news reports of a double mutant variant identified in India. Is there an end to mutations?

Each year the ‘regular’ flu vaccines are tweaked to protect from current influenza viruses. Viruses constantly mutate.

There’s a raft of ways to enhance your immunity, along with vaccination. That’s another topic for next time.