Delta is here and Mu may follow
By Ronda Luke
More than one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is grappling with the highly transmissible Delta Variant that has caused a renewed surge in infections in countries from the U.K. and the U.S., to those in Africa and Asia. And just last week another one of Dominica's worst nightmares since the start of the pandemic became a reality with the confirmation of this variant on the island.
While presenting the report, Health Minister Dr. Irving McIntyre announced that all samples were sent for testing to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and subsequently sent to the University of the West Indies for sequencing, returned positive for the Delta Variant.
Pointing out the symptoms, he noted that this particular variant rarely has any cough and fever, but rather joint pains, headache, neck, and upper back pain, general weakness, loss of appetite, and pneumonia.
Dr. McIntyre reported that the Delta Variant is also more virulent and takes less time to become extreme, leading to a higher death rate.
"This is because the Delta Variant does not remain in the nasal cavity for a long period, but quickly settles down to the lungs leading to pneumonia and in some cases eventually leading to death," the health minister explained.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the Delta Variant is the most transmissible variant of the coronavirus that first emerged in China in late 2019.
The strain which was first detected in India last October has been found in more than 150 countries globally, according to the agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
The Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky has described the Delta Variant as a very different virus than the one that took hold last year, capable of generating infections even among vaccinated people, though those are likely to be far less severe.
"The Delta Variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it," Walensky said to reporters.
But as the Delta continues to prove its dominance globally, WHO has recently added another version of coronavirus to its list of "variants of interest" amid concerns that it may partially evade the immunity people have developed from past infection or vaccination.
The "Mu'' variant, also known as B.1.621, was added to the WHO's watchlist on 30 August after it was detected in 39 countries and found to possess a cluster of mutations that may make it less susceptible to the immune protection many have acquired.
"The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape," the WHO said in a statement, raising concerns that it may be more resistant to coronavirus vaccines than other variants.
"But this needs to be confirmed by further studies," it added.
Researchers have said that current evidence showed that the new variant was likely "more transmissible" than the original coronavirus strain and has been able to outcompete Gamma and Alpha in most parts of the world to include Ecuador and Colombia.
Part of the concern about Mu comes from the particular mutations it carries. One genetic change, the P681H mutation, is found in the Alpha variant first detected in Kent and has been linked to faster transmission. Other mutations, including E484K and K417N, may help the virus evade immune defenses, which could give the variant an advantage over Delta as immunity rises, researchers have warned.