THE new coronavirus was first detected in China in 2019 and the virus has often tried to build resistance to body attacks. When a virus develops defiance against the body’s immune system or vaccine, the virus rewrites its genetic code and the immune system. The new version of the virus mutated out of such resistance is called a variant of the virus.
Everyone should know that the variant and the strain are not the same. A strain is a subtype of a virus of the same species. For example, seven types of coronavirus have been found in humans so far. The seventh coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of the coronavirus. For example, SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19, has attacked different part of the world in the past year with several types of variants.
Not all the variants elicited by this mutation are harmful. Not all are detrimental or equally damaging to the body. Some modify themselves a little, some change in structure, but the way of invasion does not change. Some variants are more critical than ever and some are weak again.
Although such modifications in the virus are not regular, it has become a typical life cycle of many viruses in the 20th century. The transitions are more common in RNA viruses. Every year, we must take flu vaccines because every year new virus of the flu virus attacks us and the previous vaccine is not as effective. But we have not seen a new variant of the virus of smallpox or hepatitis. Once you take those vaccines, you do not have to retake them. This strange change in the 21st century is jeopardising humans.
Such mutation in viruses is not part of any strategy. It is sometimes in a physical accident, sometimes when the virus enters the body and steals the manufacturing process of the cells and boosts its number. This genetic engineering and code transmission do not reach the next virus. The new virus may then behave differently in the absence of few regulations than its original virus. If it behaves differently, the new virus increases the number and spreads its unique features. It makes a new variant stronger and transferable. It grows faster than the original virus over time.
Despite the finding of several SARS-CoV-2 variants in 2020, three new variants have concerned doctors, scientists and the World Health Organisation concerned since late 2020. The variant found in England is 20I/501Y. V1. This variant is known as B.1.1.7. Many people simply write B117. The variant found in South Africa is 20H/501Y. V2. It is known as B.1.351. People name it as B1351. The variant found in Brazil is 20J/501Y. V3. This variant is also known as P.1. Many refer to B1128 as a Brazilian variant as it was first found in Japan in the body of three Brazilians.
The B117 found in England was first seen in October 2020 but overgrew in December, particularly in London. The variant has spread to 50 countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Russia. However, the outbreak of the variant has not been in Southeast Asia and the subcontinent.
The B1351 variant first appeared in Nelson Mandela Bay in October 2020. The variant is now in some African countries. The B117 variant in England has a lot in common with the B1351 variant in South Africa.
The B1128 found in Brazil was the first found in four Brazilians after a routine check at Japan’s Haneda airport in late December 2020. The variant was then widely spread to Manaus in the northern province of Amazonia in Brazil. The variant is now found in Japan, Mexico, and England.
Scientists think that the B1128 variant, among the three variants, is more destructive. Death and damage by the other two are not much higher than the original virus, but the B117 virus in England is 50 per cent more transmittable than the original virus. The B1351 variant in South Africa causes higher mortality rates than the variant in England. Scientists are concerned about the Brazilian variant because 17 mutations took place in this variant, making the variant robust.
In South Africa, the B1351 variant has also seen several mutations. Three of these are the main ones — K417T, E484K, and N501Y. In Brazil, the B1128 variant spike protein has 17 mutations and three deletions. The RBD segment has three major modifications — K417T, E484K, and N501Y.
The variants in England and South Africa are not as fatal, but it spreads faster than the original virus. Scientists are concerned about the Brazilian variant’s overwhelming effects because it has many mutations and can develop resistance against vaccines. The vaccine was made based on the arrangement of the RBD part of the spike protein and scientists are still uncertain whether the vaccine will lose its effectiveness if any virus-detection structure changes.
Dr Opurbo Chowdhury, a physician and writer, lives in England.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion