Virus variants: How the coronavirus mutates into new strains of COVID


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The coronavirus continues to mutate around the globe, with each new strain more infectious than the last. After each mutation, the virus becomes more and more deadly as well as more transmissible to others.

With the rising trend of new strains of the virus, WREG’s Luke Jones spoke with infectious disease expert Dr. Steven Threlkeld from Baptist Memorial Hospital. He tells us that the new versions of the virus are being formed constantly.

“As with a lot of viruses, the coronavirus makes mistakes when it makes copies of itself,” Dr. Threlkeld said, “and all these little variants or mutations are just simply mistakes.”

The number of potential variants is staggering.

“You may have 10 billion viral copies in any one person at a given time,” Dr. Threkeld told WREG investigators. “So even if it only makes a mistake with one every ten copies, you could have a billion different potential variants.”

However, most of these variants don’t spread very far.

Dr. Threlkeld points to earlier in the pandemic when, “we saw this early on in that the old Wuhan or original wild type strain was replaced by the Alpha variant. Why? Because the Alpha variant had some little changes that happened to make it a little bit better at binding to our cells, getting in and doing things faster.”

We are currently experience a surge of the Delta variant here in the United States. Other variants have been detected around the globe with the Gamma variant first detected in Japan and the Lambda variant surfacing in Peru.

Even as new cases rise, Dr. Threlkeld recommends vaccination as a precaution, “the vaccine is still great for all known variants so far at keeping you from getting sick, but the virus is chipping away at our protection.”

Because each new version of the virus brings new challenges and resistances, medical experts are urging those who have not to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Dr. Threlkeld warns us, “We don’t want to get to some Omega variant out there that might be completely resistant to our immunity. That’s what we’re trying, obviously, to avoid by getting people vaccinated and cutting down on the number of times that that virus gets to copy itself”

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