WHO

WHO monitors new variant named ‘MU’

September 1, 2021 Lee Ann P. Ducusin 243 views

THE World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that it is monitoring a new coronavirus variant known as “Mu,” which was first identified in Colombia in January.

In its weekly bulletin, the WHO said Mu, known scientifically as B.1.621, has been classified as a “variant of interest.”

The global health body said the variant has mutations that indicate a risk of resistance to vaccines and stressed that further studies were needed to better understand it.

“The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” the bulletin said.

There is widespread concern over the emergence of new virus mutations as infection rates are ticking up globally again, with the highly transmissible Delta variant taking hold — especially among the unvaccinated — and in regions where anti-virus measures have been relaxed.

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, mutate over time and most mutations have little or no effect on the properties of the virus.

But certain mutations can impact the properties of a virus and influence how easily it spreads, the severity of the disease it causes, and its resistance to vaccines, drugs and other countermeasures.

The WHO currently identifies four COVID-19 variants of concern, including Alpha, which is present in 193 countries, and Delta, present in 170 countries.

Five variants, including Mu, are to be monitored.

After being detected in Colombia, Mu has since been reported in other South American countries and in Europe.

The WHO said its global prevalence has declined to below 0.1 percent among sequenced cases. In Colombia, however, it is at 39%.

Meanwhile, the C.1.2, a coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, has yet to be considered as a variant of interest or of concern by the WHO.

Based on the initial study, the variant has increased transmissibility and can affect the immunity from COVID-19 vaccines.

The variant was first detected in May and has now spread to most South African provinces and to seven other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania, based on research that is yet to be peer-reviewed.

C.1.2 has unusually high mutation rate

Meanwhile, scientists in South Africa are monitoring a new coronavirus variant with an unusually high mutation rate, and whose frequency has gradually increased in recent months, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said on Monday.

The variant, known as C.1.2., was flagged last week by the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation and Sequencing Platform in a preprint study that has yet to be peer reviewed.

While most of South Africa’s coronavirus cases are currently caused by the Delta variant – first detected in India – C.1.2. caught scientists’ attention because its mutation is almost twice as fast as observed in other global variants.

Its frequency remains relatively low, however, and it has so far been detected in fewer than three per cent of genomes sequenced since it was first picked up in May – although this has increased from 0.2 to two per cent last month.

NICD scientists on Monday said C.1.2. was only “present at very low levels” and that it was too early to predict how it might evolve.

“At this stage we do not have experimental data to confirm how it reacts in terms of sensitivity to antibodies,” NICD researcher Penny Moore said during a virtual press briefing.

But “we have considerable confidence that the vaccines that are being rolled out in South Africa will continue to protect us against severe illness and death,” she added.

So far C. 1.2 has been detected in all nine of South Africa’s provinces, as well as in other parts of the world including China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Britain.

It is, however, not frequent enough to qualify as a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern” such as the highly transmissible Delta and Beta variants, which emerged in South Africa late last year.

South Africa is the continent’s hardest hit country with over 2.7 million Covid cases reported to date, of which at least 81,830 have been fatal.

The Beta variant drove a second wave of infections in December and January, and the country is now grappling with a persistent third Delta-dominated wave predicted to overlap with a looming fourth. With AFP

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