Viruses are constantly changing through a process of mutation. We have recently identified several new and emerging variants of the virus (SARS-CoV-2). There are currently five VOC or (Variants of concern) identified within the United States. Variants of concern are being watched closely to monitor their transmission levels and make sure they do not elevate to variants of high consequence. Thankfully no variants of high consequence have been identified yet however we must remain vigilant against COVID-19.
1. UK variant (B.1.1.7)
This variant was first uncovered in the UK in September of 2020 by November a quarter of the cases in England tested positive for the variant. By December 2020 the B.1.1.7. variant had become the dominant strain in the UK. This is also the same time the B.1.1.7. was first identified in the United States. According to initial studies this variant is 43-90% more transmissible than the traditional COVID-19 strain. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Center for Disease control and Prevention, said in a news briefing that the prevalence of "variants of concern" is increasing and that "Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B.1.1.7. variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United states.
2. South Africa variant (B.1.351)
This variant was first detected in the US at the end of January 2021 and initially discovered in December 2020 in South Africa. This variant is similar in structure to the B.1.1.7. variant, as of right now there is "no evidence" to suggest this variant causes a more severe case of COVID-19. However, it has shown the ability to become dominate virus in the area. These variants can present travelers with a fresh virus they have yet to build immunity towards.
3. Japan/Brazil variant (P.1:)
This variant was first detected in the US in January 2021 and initially identified during routine screening at an airport in Japan, January 2021. Four travelers at Japans Haneda airport and contains 17 individual mutations differing significantly from previous strains. There is some evidence to suggest this variant is more infectious than other strains.
4. California variant (B.1.427)
According to the CDC the B.1.427 is 20% more transmissible than its predecessor causing it to become to dominant strain in California. There is no evidence that this strain is linked to higher rate of mortality.
5. California Variant 2 (B.1.429)
According to the CDC the B.1.429 is 20% more transmissible than its predecessor but has been a rare occurrence. B.1.427 is a far more common variant with B.1.429 currently representing lower levels of infection. Variant B.1.429 shares many attributes with Variant B.1.427 with the main differences found in its spike protein mutations. While (B.1.429) spreads more rapidly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. However it's thought to be less transmissible than B.1.1.7 and B.1.351.
It's important to remember it's completely normal for viruses to mutate. This happens naturally when viruses infect and begin to multiply within a host cell. There are currently 5 variants identified as concerning, but none yet classified of high consequence. It's important to continue to do your part by wearing a mask to prevent the formation of future variants.