The headlines about the COVID-19 variants can be intimidating. So, we wanted to drill down on exactly what is and is not unusual or concerning about them.
Dr. Carlos Del Rio with the Infectious Diseases Society of America says it's normal for these types of viruses to mutate and we're seeing it more now because transmission is out of control.
“Respiratory viruses, particularly RNA viruses, tend to mutate. They tend to change all the time and they do this when they're reproducing,” said Del Rio. “And the reason we're seeing a lot of variance right now is because there's a lot of transmission and a lot of reproduction of the virus.”
At least one of the recently identified variants can be transmitted easier, which is one of the concerning parts, because more people infected will lead to more deaths.
Del Rio says in normal circumstances, one person infected with the coronavirus transmits to 2.5 people. One new variant increases the infection rate to 2.9, which might not sound like a lot, but at the end of 10 cycles, the number of infected people is 42,00 with the mutated COVID-19, as opposed to just 9,000 with traditional COVID-19 .
“My advice to people is the best way to deal if you're concerned about the mutations, if you're concerned about the variance, put a mask on, socially distance, stop transmission. We have to stop transmission, because that's the only way to really stop these mutations,” said Del Rio.
COVID-19 variants have not been found to make anyone sicker. They are sometimes detected through testing, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that there are tests out there that are not as good at picking up variants.
The good news is that so far, therapeutics and vaccines do work against COVID-19 variants, with the exception of one variant out of South Africa, where an antibody treatment wasn't as effective.
The biggest take-aways with variants is we all have a part in reducing transmission and that's the best way to prevent even more mutation.