imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

The South African variant

Just recently, panic struck the country with the discovery that the new UK Covid variant has entered the country.

Is there really a need to panic, fellas?

Yes and no.

But more of the yes.

The U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first detected in September and has since spread rapidly around the world.

“Studies show it is 40 to 70 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain. It could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Cough is the most common symptom in those infected with the new variant, reported by 35 percent. The other common symptoms were: fatigue/weakness headache muscle aches, sore throat and fever.

To give us a direct comparison with the original Covid 19 variant, the CDC gives us the following data with the UK variant in the first figure column:

Cough 35% 28%

Fatigue/weakness 32% 29%

Headache 32% 30%

Muscle aches 25% 21%

Sore throat 22% 19%

Fever 22% 20%

Loss of taste 16% 19%

Loss of smell 15% 19%

In other words, only the last two symptoms make the difference with the first variant.

Moreover, the UK variant is spread more easily from person-to-person, cause milder or more severe disease in people, is detected by currently available viral tests, responds to medicines currently being used to treat people for COVID-19 and changes the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. It was also observed that infected people have more persistent cough, tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat and fever compared to those who have the original strain.

“There are 17 genetic changes in the B.1.1.7 variant from England,” Dr. Robert Bollinger of the CDC said. “There’s some preliminary evidence that it’s more contagious. Scientists noticed a surge of cases in areas where the new strain appeared.”

He noted that some of the mutations in the B.1.1.7 version seem to affect the coronavirus’s spike protein, which covers the outer coating of SARS-CoV-2 and give the virus its characteristic spiny appearance. These proteins help the virus attach to human cells in the nose, lungs and other areas of the body, causing COVID-19 illness.

CDC’s Dr. Stuart Ray also said that variants of viruses occur when there is a change (mutation) to the virus’s genes as it is the nature of RNA viruses like the corona virus.

“All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year.”

Which reminds me of the movie “X-Men,” fellas – where people mutate to possess super powers. So, viruses mutate, too, to possess super strength to kill their hosts!

Now, the more alarming news – the emergence of the South African variant.

In addition to the U.K. variant, scientists are tracking strains discovered in South Africa and Brazil.

The one identified in South Africa, known as B.1.351, was found in the U.S. for the first time on Jan. 28, when health officials announced two cases in South Carolina. The patients had no history of travel or of contact with each other, which suggests it is already spreading in the community.

The South African variant contains a mutation that could allow the virus to elude some of the antibodies produced through vaccines, the CDC said. Early studies indicate that the current COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against that strain, although they would still provide some protection.

Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already announced that they are working to modify their vaccines — and possibly to create booster shots — to better protect against the South African variant.

The strain first identified in Brazil has been found in only one U.S. case — in Minnesota — and that person had recently traveled to Brazil. There is some evidence to suggest that it, too, may be able to elude antibodies.

“New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are detected every week,” Ray says. “Most come and go — some persist but don’t become more common; some increase in the population for a while, and then fizzle out. When a change in the infection pattern first pops up, it can be very hard to tell what’s driving the trend: changes to the virus, or changes in human behavior. It is worrisome that similar changes to the spike protein are arising independently on multiple continents.”

Ray stresses that human behavior is important. The more people who are infected, the more chances there are for a mutation to occur. Limiting the spread of the virus through maintaining COVID-19 safeguards (mask wearing, physical distancing and practicing hand hygiene) gives the virus fewer chances to change. It also reduces the spread of more infectious variants, if they do occur.

So, what does the future hold for us in our country, fellas? Can we survive the incoming variants? Can the present vaccine contain the incoming variants such as the mutated South African variant?

Again, we go to the basics, fellas: wear your face mask and face shield, avoid crowded areas, wash your hands frequently and observe proper hygiene.

In other words, the key word is DISCIPLINE.