What is a COVID-19 variant?

As a virus spreads around the globe, it is constantly mutating or acquiring genetic changes in order to stay alive and thrive; these new mutations are called variants. There are two different types of COVID-19 variants: variants of interest and variants of concern.

What is the difference between a variant of interest and a variant of concern?

A variant of interest may or may not escape the present immunity that is being built by the antibodies you may already possess either from prior infection or vaccination. The CDC and WHO are currently watching and learning about variants of interest before they become variants of concern.

A variant of concern, as the name suggests, is a strain that we should be concerned about. It is a new strain of the virus that has been proven to be capable of causing more severe symptoms as well as possess a higher contagion rate. Most variants of concern are not as effectively combated by antibodies you may already possess.

What are the variants of concern in the United States?

As of August 2021, there have been four COVID-19 variants of concern that have been identified as currently circulating around the United States.

  • Alpha variant
    • First case: UK in September 2020
    • Difference: 50% increased transmission
  • Beta variant
    • First case: South Africa in May 2020
    • Difference: 50% increased transmission and resistance to some antibodies
  • Gamma variant
    • First Case: Brazil in November 2020
    • Difference: Some resistance to antibodies
  • Delta variant
    • First case: India in October 2020
    • Difference: increased transmission, resistance to some antibodies, even to those already vaccinated
  • Omicron variant
    • First case: South Africa in November 2021
    • Difference: increased transmission, higher re-infection risk, high number of mutations

Will I get a covid-19 variant if I am vaccinated?

The current COVID-19 vaccines available provide protection against covid-19 variants, however, it is not 100% guaranteed protection. Unfortunately, some of the coronavirus variants have mutated enough to break through the antibodies the vaccine offers, but most vaccinated people that acquire the virus experience significantly less severe symptoms than those who are not vaccinated. Data continues to be collected and analyzed by researchers and scientists to learn more about the vaccine and variant interactions.

The statistics currently show that in most states, 95% of new infections are amongst those who are not vaccinated. The “breakthrough” cases of these variants are a very small percentage of people getting sick. In order to prevent new variants from forming, we must move towards community immunity by practicing safe precautions and receiving the vaccine.

What are the symptoms of these covid-19 variants?

  • fever or chills
  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • extreme fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • cough
  • loss of taste and/or smell
  • sore throat
  • congestion
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

How do I prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants?

  • wash your hands often
  • wear a mask
  • stay at least 6 feet apart from others
  • try to limit time in crowded places
  • use contact tracing if you believe you have been exposed

If you’d like to learn more about COVID-19 and what ACP is doing to keep our patients and employees safe, click here.

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