Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
We are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines are starting to roll out, however, news has surfaced that new virus strains are starting to appear. The virus causing COVID-19 has changed and at least one new “super strain” is already in the U.S. Cedars Sinai reported this new strain designated as CAL.20C, and it is believed to be in part responsible for the surge of cases in Los Angeles.
Scientists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine discovered this new strain in a patient from Ohio. According to Peter Mohler, Chief Scientific Officer and Dean for Research at the college, “At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”
All viruses mutate, so that should not be a surprise. New strains of flu viruses are fairly common which is why it is recommended to get a flu shot every year. How quickly mutation happens depends on several factors. One indicator is viruses with an RNA genome (an organism’s genetic instructions) have less ability to fix errors when their genetic material is copied to make virus particles inside of the infected cells. So every time a virus replicates, there is a chance of a mutation occurring.
The result of a mutation can be a new lineage of a virus. Tracking this lineage can be helpful in determining how a virus spreads through a community or population. Mutations are errors a virus makes when it copies itself. Coronaviruses mutate more slowly than most other viruses because of a built-in mechanism that corrects these errors. If a mutation affects the part of the virus used in a vaccine, this new variant becomes a strain.
Mutation is not the same as a strain. When a mutation comes into contact with the part of the virus used in a vaccine or that the immune system uses to neutralize the virus, this new variation becomes a strain. Strain is a genetic variant, subtype, or culture within a biological species. Mutations in the new strain seem to affect the coronavirus giving it a spiny appearance that attaches to human cells in the nose and other areas of the body. That is one reason continued masking is still an essential method of reducing the risk of infection.
According to Moderna (a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company) tests show that COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against new variants of COVID-19, however they will test booster doses of their vaccine that are tailored to fight strains that have recently emerged.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated while these strains appear to spread more quickly, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. Currently there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or risk of death. Rigorous compliance with public health strategies such as vaccination, masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene and quarantine continue to be the best option of personal protection.
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