Although the Delta variant has been dominating conversations and headlines surrounding COVID-19 for the last few months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now listed a new "variant of interest."
According to WHO, the Mu COVID-19 variant (also known as B.1.621) "has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape."
Here's what we know about the Mu COVID-19 variant so far.
What is the Mu COVID-19 variant?
WHO first identified the Mu COVID-19 variant in January 2021 in Colombia. Since then, scattered cases of the variant have been reported, as well as more significant outbreaks across the world, including other countries in South America, the UK, Europe, the US and Hong Kong.
What does "variant of interest" mean?
The Mu COVID-19 variant is a "variant of interest" because it has genetic changes to the standard strain that are known/predicted to affect certain virus characteristics, including disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape and transmissibility. According to WHO, a "variant of interest" is also "identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health."
Should we be worried about the Mu COVID-19 variant?
At the moment, the Delta variant continues to be the dominant COVID-19 strain across the world, with the Mu COVID-19 variant only making up less than 0.1% of global COVID-19 infections. But, this rate is higher in certain countries, such Colombia, where it makes up 39% of cases.
Unlike the Delta variant, the Mu COVID-19 variant isn't as widespread as other variants on WHO's "interest" list.
Speaking to Health, infectious disease specialist William Schaffner, MD, said: "It's not very concerning at the present time. Researchers are still assessing how quickly it spreads and what its level of contagiousness is."
Medical experts recommend the best form of protection against the Mu COVID-19 variant, as well as all other variants, is to be fully vaccinated. While concerns were raised that the variant could be vaccine-resistant, WHO confirmed that this still "needs to be confirmed by further studies."
What are the symptoms of the Mu COVID-19 variant?
WHO has not yet stated whether the symptoms of the Mu COVID-19 variant differ to other strains.
Anyone with a high temperature, a new and continuous cough, and a loss/change to their sense of smell/taste, must get a PCR test and stay at home until their results are cleared, even if the symptoms are mild.
How many cases of the Mu COVID-19 variant are there in the UK?
Public Health England figures released yesterday (7 September) revealed there's currently 53 confirmed cases of the Mu COVID-19 variant in the UK.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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