Even with the recent emergence of the Mu variant, the highly transmissible Delta variant is still considered the “most concerning” coronavirus strain currently circulating globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s technical lead for the coronavirus pandemic, stated during a virtual press event earlier in the week that the Mu variant, which seemingly has the potential to evade immunity provided by a previous infection or vaccination, has yet to make significant inroads into countries like the more common Delta variant.
“The Delta variant for me is the one that’s most concerning because of the increased transmissibility,” she said.
‘Outcompete’ Other Variants
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, contended that Delta possesses the unique makeup to “outcompete” other variants.
“We will expect to see more” variants like Delta, he contended. “Not every variant means the sky is going to fall in. Each variant needs to be looked at for its characteristics in terms of its potential to cause more severe disease, its potential to transmit, its potential to escape vaccines.”
Since being first detected by scientists in India last fall, the Delta variant already has spread to at least one hundred seventy countries. Here in the United States, the variant is now the dominant strain and represents more than 95 percent of all sequenced cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mu Circulating Widely
The Mu variant, on the other hand, has been found to be circulating in forty-nine states. Only Nebraska has managed to avoid contracting a single case of the variant. Also known by medical professionals as B.1.621, it was recently added to the WHO’s list of variants “of interest.”
This variant “has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” the WHO wrote in its COVID epidemiological report, adding that it already has been identified in approximately forty countries.
Last Sunday, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci noted in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation that health officials “want to make sure (Mu) doesn’t become more dominant.”
“We actually don’t know what the consequences would be. The concern is that it has a few—a constellation of mutations that would indicate that it might evade the protection from certain antibodies,” he continued.
WHO officials also added that they fully expect the coronavirus to continue to mutate in unvaccinated countries and “evolve like influenza pandemic viruses.”
“I think this virus is here to stay with us and it will evolve like influenza pandemic viruses—it will evolve to become one of the other viruses that affects us,” Ryan said.
“People have said we’re going to eliminate or eradicate the virus. No, we’re not, very, very unlikely,” he added.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.