Covid 19 Variants

COVID-19 Variants: Should We Be Concerned?

Scientists call new forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus variants. Though naturally a source of concern, the existence of variants was not unexpected. Viruses often mutate into new and typically slightly different forms, as they adapt to changes in environment. Most of these changes are inconsequential; a few, however, may continue to pose a threat to human and public health.

Baptist Health is actively tracking the emergence and circulation of the SARS-CoV-2 variants, along with evaluating the risks they pose to the individuals and families we serve. We will continue to serve as your source of information on COVID-19, as well as provide treatment for those dealing with the virus.

What Is a Variant of Concern? What Is a Variant of Interest?

Scientists divide the variants into two primary categories: variants of concern and variants of interest. There is an agreed-upon definition for both, with variants of concern recognized as a greater potential health threat than variants of interest.

A variant of concern is any mutated pathogen that, in comparison to the original:

  • Increases transmissibility (that is, circulates more easily among humans).
  • Increases lethality (that is, poses a greater medical risk including death).
  • Decreases the effectiveness of public-health measures, including vaccines and standard medical treatments.

These factors can occur separately or together. A variant of interest is a mutated pathogen that displays genetic or other factors that suggest it may eventually prove to be a variant of concern. Variants of interest are often the cause of episodes of community transmission (that is, the spread of infection by means of unidentified sources).

There is a third category, called variants of high consequence. This category is reserved for those variants that challenge medical containment or control. There are no SARS-CoV-2 variants currently in this category as of July 2021.

What Are the Current COVID-19 Variants of Concern?

There are four SARS-CoV-2 variants presently classified as variants of concern. They are:

  • Alpha (B.1.1.7): The Alpha variant initially appeared in Great Britain, with the first American case documented in December 2020. It appears to be more infectious than earlier strains and may pose a greater health risk.
  • Beta (B.1.351): This variant, reported originally in South Africa, entered the U.S. in late January 2021. Like the Alpha variant, it appears more infectious and, because it decreases the effectiveness of natural or vaccine-generated antibodies, is capable of reinfection.
  • Gamma (P.1): The Gamma variant also entered the United States in January 2021, after first being detected in Brazilian travelers visiting Japan. Similar to the Beta variant, it seems to be more effective than the original strains against natural or vaccine-produced antibodies.
  • Delta (B.1.617.2): The Delta variant was first recorded in India in December 2020, with the initial American cases documented in March of 2021. It may prove to be the most infectious of the SARS-CoV-2 variants to date, though the extent of the associated medical risk is still under investigation.

What Are the Current COVID-19 Variants of Interest?

Four SARS-CoV-2 variants are currently viewed as variants of interest:

  • Eta (B.1.525)
  • Iota (B.1.526)
  • Kappa (B.1.617.1)
  • Lambda (C.37)

Medical researchers are monitoring reports of these variants, to determine whether they pose a wider health risk.

How Can I Protect Myself and My Family from COVID-19 Variants?

You can protect yourself and your loved ones from the new variants by taking the same steps public-health organizations developed for the original outbreak of COVID-19:

  • Wear masks or other protective facial coverings.
  • Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from other people.
  • Avoid crowds, especially in confined spaces.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap.
  • Get vaccinated with one of three vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can click here to schedule your vaccine if you reside in Kentucky and here, if you reside in Indiana.