Coronavirus mutations

Coronavirus mutations

Coronavirus became part of everyday life less than two years ago. For the time being, nothing promises that the pandemic situation in the world will calm down enough to talk about the cessation of COVID-19. On the contrary, more mutations of the virus are being recorded, which may be more dangerous than those known so far. What are the Alpha, Beta and Delta variants? What symptoms are indicative of Omicron infection? Why does the virus mutate in the first place, and what can be done about it?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has already infected more than 272 million people worldwide, of whom 5.33 million have died. These statistics make it clear that we are far from the end of the pandemic despite the widespread access to vaccines, and further mutations of the coronavirus are proving to be more infectious than those known so far.

Why is the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutating?

Why does the virus mutate at all and, for now, cannot be eliminated? Viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, do not exhibit vital functions, but their goal is survival. Therefore, they make their way from one host to another and produce as many virions as possible to infect more organisms and thus adapt to existing conditions.

Viruses mutate both due to genetic errors that arise during the replication of viral genetic material in human cells and as a result of evolution. If any mutation proves effective, it will be passed on. Importantly, more often than not, mutations make viruses more contagious – they have a higher R-rate, resulting in one person being able to infect more people, and a shorter incubation period – less time will pass from infection to the time of the first symptoms than for the first detected variants. This is what happened with coronavirus.

The biggest problem – and current concern – arising from the mutation of the virus is the possibility that a variant will emerge that is completely resistant to available vaccines. Let’s remember that the vaccines were developed for the Wuhan coronavirus, not its subsequent mutations. Unfortunately, due to insufficient vaccination rates, the virus has not been fully eradicated, so it may evolve all the time.

Coronavirus variants – Alpha, Beta, Delta

The first detected variant of SARS-CoV-2 was that of Wuhan, but it was supplanted rather quickly by the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) also called British. Alpha turned out to be much more infectious than its predecessor, while causing more serious illness and increasing the risk of death in people in the age group between 55 and 69.

Later, the Delta (B.1.617.2) – an Indian variant – and Beta (B.1.351) – an African variant – were also detected. Delta, according to statistics, is about 60% more contagious than Alpha and 100% more than the Wuhan variant. At the same time, if an unvaccinated person becomes infected with it, the risk of hospitalization for that person doubles.

The Beta variant was found to be 9 times more resistant to the serum of the recovered and 13 times more resistant to the serum of the vaccinated, suggesting that resistance to other coronavirus variants is not equivalent to resistance to Beta.

Omicron – the latest coronavirus mutation

The latest coronavirus mutation, which was first detected on November 11, 2021, is Omikron. Once again, we are dealing with an African mutation now called the worst SARS-CoV-2 variant identified to date. Why is it being talked about this way? The study found 50 mutations in this variant, 32 of which were noted within the spike in the peak protein that performs the most important function in infecting human cells – entering them. This suggested that Omicron would be far more infectious than its predecessors.

Unfortunately, these fears are being confirmed – among other things, according to data from Dec. 16, 2021, there was a 20-fold increase in infections with this variant in nine days in the UK. Specifically, on December 5, 250 cases of Omicron were found, while on December 14 there were as many as 5,300, a rate that has not been observed in any variant to date. In comparison, Delta took nearly 70 days to record a 20-fold increase in cases. As a result, Omicron is said to be likely to displace the Delta mutation from Europe.

What is known about Omikron so far?

It multiplies much faster than other variants, but mainly in the respiratory tract rather than the lungs, which explains the milder course of infection. Characteristic symptoms include severe fatigue, a scratchy feeling in the throat, a weak to moderate headache, muscle pain especially in the back, intestinal complaints, a blocked nose, night sweats and a slightly elevated body temperature.

No loss of smell or taste is observed. Rarely, patients complain of difficulty breathing or have nausea or abdominal pain. Importantly, the variant also affects vaccinated people – it is diagnosed in those who have taken all the recommended doses of the available preparations including the booster dose. So far, the course of the infection is mild in most.


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