Disease experts watching Gamma, Mu variants of COVID

Coronavirus

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A new COVID-19 variant called ‘Mu’ that may be able to evade existing antibodies, including those from vaccines, is under close watch by health experts.               

The variant hasn’t taken extensive hold in America, but some of the Mid-South’s top doctors are concerned about Mu and other new variants.

Just as the terms COVID-19 and Delta variant had become a part of many of our vocabularies, new strains of the coronavirus are being added to the World Health Organization’s “Variants of Interest” list.

“We were celebrating victory even as the Delta variant was at our doorstep,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist with Baptist Hospital. “There’s nothing at our doorstep now, but there are other variants out there that can certainly cause us problems.”

The Mu variant was first detected in Colombia in January and it’s catching attention as COVID-19 cases are trending up in the U.S. and in many countries worldwide.

According to the WHO, all three Mid-South states, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, have reported 10 or fewer cases.

The Gamma variant was first identified in Japan and Brazil.

“Things like the Gamma variant might be the one that would step in, and that is more contagious and is slippery to our immune system and certainly has shown itself as being very good at re-infecting people, even with natural immunity,” Threlkeld said.

Top U.S. health experts say they’re very closely watching these new variants.

“Bottom line, we are paying attention to it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. “We take everything like that seriously. But we don’t consider it an immediate threat right now.” 

Mid-South infectious disease experts say vaccines are still very effective against many of these variants and they can prevent death.

“Most of the deaths that are going to happen over the next month are, and would be, preventable. So, everything that we can do to prevent severe illness and death we need to do right now,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi state health officer.

A new variant could become part of our lives.

“If nothing else we’ve gained humility. We have made a living on underestimating this virus, every aspect of it and its behavior. We would be foolish not to take it very seriously,” Threlkeld said.

According to the CDC, the best way to slow the emergence of new variants is by getting a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask and social distancing when possible.

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