The World Health Organization has added another version of the coronavirus to the list of variants of interest among concerns that it may partially circumvent the immunity that humans have developed from past infection or vaccination.
The Mu variant, also known as B.1.621, was added to the WHO watch list on August 30 after it was discovered in 39 countries and was found to possess a set of mutations that could make it less sensitive to immune defenses. that many of them have won.
According to the WHO weekly pandemic bulletin, the Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate the potential properties of immune escape. Preliminary data suggest it could circumvent immune defenses in a manner similar to the Beta variant first discovered in South Africa, the report adds, but this needs to be confirmed with further work.
The Mu variant was first identified in Colombia in January 2021. Since then, sporadic cases and several larger outbreaks have been recorded worldwide. Beyond South America, cases have been reported in the UK, Europe, the US and Hong Kong. While the variant accounts for less than 0.1% of Covid infections globally, it may be gaining ground in Colombia and Ecuador where it accounts for 39% and 13% of Covid cases, respectively.
Scientists and public health officials are particularly keen to know if the Mu variant is more contagious, or causes more serious illness, than the Delta variant that is dominant in much of the world. The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes, according to the WHO bulletin.
At least 32 cases of the Mu variant have been detected in the UK, where the pattern of infections suggests it has been brought in by travelers on numerous occasions. An English Public Health (PHE) report in July said most of them were found in London and in people in their 20s. Some of those who tested positive for Mu had received one or two doses of the Covid vaccine.
The Mu variant was added to the list of PHE variants under investigation in July. The designation, which refers to Mu as VUI-21JUL-01, means that the variant will be monitored to see how it behaves. So far it has not raised as much alarm as Alpha and Delta, which are classified as more serious variants of concern, mainly due to their increased transmissibility, but also concerns about avoiding immune protection.
A risk assessment of the Mu variant released by PHE in August highlighted laboratory work suggesting that the variant is at least as resistant as the Beta variant to the immunity that comes from vaccination. But more evidence is needed from other laboratory studies and real-world variant cases. How threatening the variant is is very uncertain and depends on whether the cases increase significantly in the coming weeks and months, especially in the presence of the rapidly spreading Delta variant.
Currently, there is no evidence that VUI-21JUL-01 is surpassing the Delta variant and appears unlikely to be more transmissible, the report said, though it goes on to warn: Immune escape could contribute to future growing changes.
Part of Mu’s concern comes from the specific mutations he carries. A genetic variation, the P681H mutation, is found in the Alpha variant first discovered in Kent and has been linked to faster transmission. Other mutations, including E484K and K417N, may help the virus avoid immune protection, which could give the variant an advantage over Delta as immunity increases in the fall.
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