The Mu variant was first detected in Colombia, Chile, Peru, and some parts of the United States, where 2,000 cases have been logged as of September 3. It is the latest coronavirus variant under the radar of health experts everywhere, including the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, the Mu variant has spread in California, Florida, New York, and Texas after first being detected in Colombia in early 2021. For now, Mu is a "variant of concern" but not in the levels of the Delta variant, which now accounts for 99 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Yet top health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have revealed they are keeping close watch over this latest virus mutation.
"It's still early and difficult to measure how infectious and how effective the Mu variant is," Stuart Ray of John Hopkins University said. "But the world is a small place during the pandemic, so we're staying vigilant."
How Far Has Mu Spread?
As of the end of August, WHO said that the Mu variant, also known as B.1.621, was tracked in 40 countries, but only about 0.1 percent of this variant has been linked to infections. It appears that the sequenced cases are in clusters where infection rates are consistently going up.
The WHO said that the Mu variant is still no match to the Delta variant, which is more contagious and virulent as it impacts over 170 countries. Thus, most health experts worldwide remain focused on Delta cases because of the recent surges.
Nevertheless, WHO officials warned that, based on preliminary data, Mu appears to have properties of the E484K and K417N mutations that it could potentially evade antibodies, which means that it might be immune to vaccines. However, more studies have yet to be done to understand the new variant's characteristics.
For now, existing vaccines used in preventing severe symptoms of COVID-19 -- such as Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson in the U.S. -- still work against the different variants. The experts said that breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated individuals might occur in 1 in 5,000 individuals. The majority of patients in hospitals today are unvaccinated people.
How to Protect Against Mu
Thus, the experts continue to recommend vaccination as the most effective prevention against contracting the Mu variant. Additional preventive measures, such as wearing a face mask and social distancing in crowded places, even for fully vaccinated individuals, still hold up well, especially in cities or counties with high transmissions.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the Los Angeles Public Health Office, where most cases of Mu have been detected in the U.S., said layering protections and getting vaccinated can "break the chain of transmission" and limit COVID-19 from proliferating and mutating into another variant that could become more dangerous and deadly.
Dr. Ashish Jha of the Brown University School of Public Health said people should "not lose sleep over the emerging variants." Hospital workers are more concerned over the impact of Delta in the healthcare system.
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