The World Health Organization and health officials worldwide are closely monitoring a new coronavirus variant called mu, which seemingly has the potential to evade immunity provided by a previous infection or inoculation.
The mu variant, first identified in Colombia, “has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” the WHO wrote in its report, adding that it has already spread to nearly forty countries.
“Preliminary data presented to the Virus Evolution Working Group show a reduction in neutralization capacity of convalescent and vaccine sera similar to that seen for the Beta variant, but this needs to be confirmed by further studies,” it continued.
The WHO added that more studies are needed to better understand the clinical characteristics of the new variant.
“The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes,” the agency noted.
In all, the WHO has confirmed that it is monitoring four variants of concern—including Delta, which was first detected by scientists in India last fall, Alpha, first detected in the United Kingdom, Beta, first detected in South Africa, and Gamma, first detected in Brazil.
In the United States, the highly transmissible Delta variant has become a particular concern as it has quickly emerged as the dominant strain, representing more than 95 percent of all sequenced cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Largely due to the variant, the current seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases in the United States has risen to roughly one hundred sixty thousand—which is more than ten times higher compared to just two months ago and more than 20 percent higher compared to two weeks prior, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Just last month, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci sounded the alarm that an even more severe variant could emerge relatively soon.
“If we don’t crush the outbreak to the point of getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, then what will happen is the virus will continue to smolder through the fall into the winter, giving it ample chance to get a variant which, quite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants—particularly against severe illness,” the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in an interview with McClatchy.
“We’re very fortunate that that’s the case. There could be a variant that’s lingering out there that can push aside Delta. If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” 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.