Introduction

With the COVID-19 virus still infecting millions around the world, the infectious disease has now mutated into new strains that pose even greater challenges to bringing an end to this pandemic.

This is a bigger cause for worry to WHO and other health organizations around the world already overwhelmed with the higher number of COVID-19 infections in their respective countries.

Although some mutations may be able to kill viruses, others may make them spread faster. Such is the case for these new COVID variants that are spreading at alarming rates.

Exhibiting mainly the same symptoms as before (including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sore throat), these are the three main variants of the infectious disease in particular that are causing concern:

B117 – Commonly Referred to as the United Kingdom Variant:

B117 spreads more easily and more rapidly than other variants. Back in January, experts in the UK believed this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variants of the COVID-19 virus. The variant has been detected in other parts of the world.

B1351 – Commonly Referred to as the South African Variant:

Originally detected in early October 2020, The B1351 COVID-19 variant shares some mutations with the B117 variant.

P1 – Commonly Referred to as the Brazil Variant:

The P1 COVID-19 variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.

Infectiousness of New COVID-19 Variants

These new variants of COVID-19 virus tend to spread more easily than the original strain and are therefore much more contagious. Although we do not know if the diseases are more severe, the impact on communities is definitely alarming.

Increased COVID-19 infections would result in more illness, hospitalizations and deaths. New strains can spread simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Disproportionate Rate of Infections Among Minorities

According to the CDC, COVID-19 hospitalization rates among people from Black, Hispanic and Latino communities are nearly four times greater than that of other groups.

Although here is no evidence to suggest genetic or other biological factors as the cause, the following factors may contribute to the disparity:

Occupation: People in work settings such as healthcare facilities, farms, factories, grocery stores, and public transportation are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

Limited Healthcare access: Health care access can also be limited due to lack of transportation, childcare, being uninsured, or the inability to take time off of work.

Housing: People living in crowded conditions or with extended families are unable to adhere to prevention strategies.

Educational, income, and wealth gaps: Having limited access to quality education means limited job options, decreasing the chances of people leaving jobs that put them at higher risk of COVID-19. This makes them more likely to be at a higher risk of being exposed to the virus.

Effectiveness of Vaccine on these Variants

To date, experiments suggest that antibodies produced from currently approved vaccines do recognize these variants. These findings are being closely examined and additional research is being conducted.

To limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect public health, rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies such as vaccination, physical distance, use of masks, hand washing, isolation and quarantine remains imperative.

About Dr. Faiza Tahir

Dr. Faiza Tahir is a specialist in Infectious Diseases in the Webster and Baytown areas of Texas.

She is double board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease with specialized fellowship training from UTMB Galveston.