What does the new SARS CoV-2 mutation really mean? This latest virus variant from the United Kingdom is not the first change SARS-CoV-2 has made since the inception of the pandemic. Various strains have already made their way through our country.
And that may render COVID tests inaccurate.
Viruses mutate and SARS CoV-2 is not different. It changes to survive and evade our immune systems. Back when the pandemic first arrived in this country, people from different coasts, had different versions.
Dr. Karen Kaul is a NorthShore University HealthSystem pathologist.
“We know, for example in New York, the tendency was several months ago to get the viral strains that came from Europe,” she said. “Whereas our West Coast tended to get the strains that came from China. And that made sense. It really reflected the travel patterns of the people who were carrying this virus around the world.”
So why is the u-k strain causing so much uproar now? Kaul, who has spent months analyzing viral samples, said she is not surprised.
“We know that since the beginning of this pandemic there have been several different versions of this virus different flavors,” she said. “They are all different because the DNA sequenced the genome the RNA sequence are all a little bit different.”
The biggest concern now, as vaccines to give the immune system the power to fight COVID are being distributed, will they work against new, mutating strains?
“All evidence presently suggests that they will,” Kraul said. “Some of the vaccines are aimed at a portion of the virus that is, in part, involved in this mutation. But it doesn’t appear that the mutation changes the viral proteins to a degree that would render the vaccines in effective.”
But where the mutations may wreak havoc is in the lab where scientists work to identify the virus that causes COVID-19 and give people an accurate diagnosis.
“If you have a change in the genome, it makes it possible that these diagnostic test might miss that fragment of the genome that they are meant to detect,” Kraul said.
And there is another worry – whether antigen tests will be able to tell people if they have immunity.
“If we encountered a strain of the virus that had dramatic altered genome, and subsequently the proteins encoded by that genome enough, it is feasible that the proteins might be different enough that the antigen test might lose sensitivity in terms of detection,” Kraul said.
Bottom line is, as with many elements of battling this killer virus, there are no guarantees and those on the front lines will have to pivot again and again in the new year to fight 2020’s major threat.
“This is nothing new in medicine and I think what’s important for us however is to be aware of this. (But) not to panic because it doesn’t mean the virus is necessarily worse,” Kraul said.
One of the major problems in this country is we have no database to collectively analyze variants. The fragmented data, according to experts, puts us at a disadvantage in efforts to fight COVID across the country.