The year 2021 began precisely where 2020 left off – with the world dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, 2021 also started with a growing alarm around the globe over the new contagious ‘super strain’ of the coronavirus that appears to be even more contagious than before. Not only is this new super strain of coronavirus more infectious, but it is also genetically different from the earlier variants of the virus.1
This new super strain of the coronavirus has been named VUI-202012/01 and was first discovered in the United Kingdom in December 2020. Even as researchers attempt to find out more about this new variant of the virus, its impact is already being felt across the world, with a recent surge in coronavirus cases affecting the UK and many other countries. Several countries have also imposed travel restrictions and closed their borders to travelers from the UK, where this new super strain was first discovered.2
According to what we know till now, this new variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus is up to 70 percent more contagious and transmissible than the older strain, though there are still many unanswered questions that remain about the new strain. Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about this new contagious COVID ‘super-strain’.
Why Did The Coronavirus Suddenly Change?
Viruses can change or mutate to develop into newer strains as there is a change to their genes. The nature of RNA viruses like the coronavirus is that they continue to evolve and change regularly. In fact, geographic separation tends to give rise to genetically different strains of the coronavirus.
Mutations in viruses, including the coronavirus that is causing the COVID-19 pandemic presently, are not a new or unexpected concept. All viruses tend to mutate and change over time, but some go through this more frequently than others. For example, the flu viruses change quite often, which is why doctors recommend that you keep getting a flu shot every year to ensure that protection against any new strains of the flu virus is included in the vaccine.3,4
From the time the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected in China, several variants of the virus have become emerged. This particular super strain of the coronavirus was detected in southeastern England in September 2020, but it only became more commonly detected in December 2020. By December, the super strain became the most widely diagnosed variant of coronavirus, accounting for almost 60 percent of all-new COVID-19 cases. This new super strain soon also appeared in the Netherlands, Denmark, and other European countries, and South Africa also witnessed the emergence of a similar super strain variant.5
How Is The New Super Strain of Coronavirus Different?
Recent studies indicate that there are around 23 genetic changes in the new strain of the coronavirus. There are also preliminary suggestions that state the strain is far more contagious, and though not yet proven, researchers have been noticing a sudden surge of cases in those areas where the new super strain has been diagnosed. This is why doctors and scientists believe that there could be a connection.
The mutations in the new variant of the coronavirus appear to be affecting the coronavirus’ spike proteins that cover the outer surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and give it the characteristic spiny appearance we have all become familiar with. These spike proteins are what help the virus attach to the human cells in the nose and other areas, invading the body and causing COVID-19 infection.6
Research is now going on to see whether this new super strain is more ‘sticky’ due to the changes in its spike protein. However, this has not yet been proven, and further research is needed to find out whether or not this new super strain is more contagious and easily transmitted.7
Is The New Super Strain of Coronavirus More Dangerous?
According to the news so far, even though the new mutated coronavirus strain seems to be spreading faster from person to person, there does not seem to be evidence to show that it is more dangerous and more likely to cause death or severe infection. No indication has been found so far that indicates that the super strain is more dangerous or more virulent and responsible for causing more severe COVID-19 infections.
For the virus to survive, it is considered to be more beneficial for it to evolve rapidly so that it is able to spread more quickly. However, viruses do not get the opportunity to reproduce much if they mutate to become more deadly and dangerous. The fact is that if a person gets too sick or dies from the particular strain, the virus would not be able to get transmitted further ahead, thus breaking the chain of transmission itself.8
Does The New Strain Affect Children More?
As of now, the evidence shows that the new super strain of the coronavirus has affected children more. There has been a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases in children. However, the data so far shows that the children are being infected by both the old strain as well as the new super strain. There is a lack of convincing evidence to show that this new super variant of the virus has a particular tendency to infect children. However, scientists and doctors all over the world are vigilant in monitoring any such shift that would indicate it’s a propensity to infect children.
Does The New Strain Make People Sicker Or Increase The Likelihood Of Death?
Again, there has been no specific indication that either of these is valid with the new variant of the virus. However, there is reason to consider that the new strain is making people more sicker. For example, in South Africa, yet another strain of the coronavirus has been found to have undergone the same mutation as the UK strain, and this variant seems to be spreading rapidly through the country, especially the coastal areas.
Preliminary studies by doctors in South Africa indicate that people infected with this new variant have an increased viral load, which means they have a higher concentration of the virus present in their upper respiratory tract. As observed in other viral diseases, this is an indication of more severe symptoms.9
Can We Expect More New Strains Of The Coronavirus To Develop?
Yes, that is definitely a possibility for the future. As long as this coronavirus continues its spread through the global population, there is a high likelihood that it will continue to mutate and new strains will emerge. In 2020 itself, there were numerous mutations of the virus that were caught and raised concerns about the rapidly mutating nature of this virus. However, further research in 2020 did not reveal any major changes in how the coronavirus is expected to behave.
New strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are being detected almost every week. While most of these strains just come and go, some tend to persist but do not become common. Some have been found to spread rapidly through the population for some time and then disappear. When there is a change in the infection pattern that becomes visible, it can be very challenging to find out what are the driving factors behind the spread of that strain.
As of now, it is being presumed that the current vaccines that are being used globally should still be effective against this new variant of the coronavirus. The vaccines from Pfizer and Modern a work by creating immunity to the coronavirus by ‘teaching’ the immune system to manufacture antibodies to a certain protein that is located on the surface of the virus, known as a spike. These spike proteins latch onto the healthy cells of our body and open a passageway to infect the person. Antibodies manufactured in response to the vaccines stick to the top of the spike protein and prevent the viruses from entering the body.
While it is believed that the new mutation could very well change the shape of the spike proteins in coronavirus, thus making it more difficult for the antibodies to gain a good grip on them, experts remain hopeful that this new super strain will not be able to evade the vaccination.
However, if the virus continues to become more potent, the world will need to put in place stricter measures to control the spread of this super strain.
- Ciotti, M., Ciccozzi, M., Terrinoni, A., Jiang, W.C., Wang, C.B. and Bernardini, S., 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 57(6), pp.365-388.
- Spinelli, A. and Pellino, G., 2020. COVID‐19 pandemic: perspectives on an unfolding crisis. The British journal of surgery.
- Domingo, E.J.J.H. and Holland, J.J., 1997. RNA virus mutations and fitness for survival. Annual review of microbiology, 51(1), pp.151-178.
- Weigle, J.J., 1953. Induction of mutations in a bacterial virus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 39(7), p.628.
- Grubaugh, N.D., Hanage, W.P. and Rasmussen, A.L., 2020. Making sense of mutation: what D614G means for the COVID-19 pandemic remains unclear. Cell, 182(4), pp.794-795.
- Wise, J., 2020. Covid-19: New coronavirus variant is identified in UK.
- Sahoo, J.P., Mishra, A.P., Behera, L., Nath, S. and Samal, K.C., 2020. New Mutant COVID-19 Strain (VUI–202012/01)–More Contagious than Current Status. Biotica Research Today, 2(12), pp.1331-1333.
- Tang, J.W., Tambyah, P.A. and Hui, D.S., 2020. Emergence of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant in the UK. Journal of Infection.
- Hopkins, C., Surda, P. and Kumar, N., 2020. Presentation of new onset anosmia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhinology, 10.
- What Gets Rid Of Coronavirus?
- Should You Be Worried About Coronavirus (COVID-19, 2019-nCoV)?
- How Common is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?
- How to Prevent Getting Coronavirus?
- What Does Social Distancing During Coronavirus Outbreak Mean?
- Benefits of Washing Hands With Soap in Preventing Coronavirus
- Can You Get Coronavirus Twice?