Monitoring New Coronavirus Variants
11 September 2021 12:19 WIB
Mu - One to watch
Mu, the coronavirus variant formerly known as B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia in January. On Aug. 30, the WHO designated it as a variant of interest due to several concerning mutations, and assigned a Greek letter name to it.
Mu carries key mutations, including E484K, N501Y and D614G, that have been linked with increased transmissibility and reduced immune protection.
According to the WHO's Bulletin published last week, Mu has caused some larger outbreaks in South America and Europe. While the number of genetic sequences identified as Mu have fallen below 0.1% globally, Mu represents 39% of variants sequenced in Colombia and 13% in Ecuador, places where its prevalence has "consistently increased," WHO reported.
The global health agency said it continues to monitor Mu for changes in South America, especially in areas where it is co-circulating with the Delta variant. Maria van Kerkhove, head of WHO's emerging diseases unit, said circulation of the variant is decreasing globally but needs to be observed closely. In a press briefing last week, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said U.S. officials are watching it, but so far Mu is not considered an immediate threat.
More on the Way?
Getting more people vaccinated against COVID-19 is critical as large groups of unvaccinated people give the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate into new variants.
That effort must be stepped up internationally to keep variants from emerging unchecked among the populations of poor nations where very few people have been inoculated, experts say.
Even so, while the current vaccines prevent severe disease and death, they do not block infection. The virus is still capable of replicating in the nose, even among vaccinated people, who can then transmit the disease through tiny, aerosolized droplets.
To defeat SARS-CoV-2 will likely require a new generation of vaccines that also block transmission, according to Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine developer at the Mayo Clinic. Until then, Poland and other experts say, the world remains vulnerable to the rise of new coronavirus variants.