What to know about COVID-19 variants

Here Are the Biggest MythsAbout COVID-19 Variants.Over the past month, the news has beendominated by reports of COVID-19 variants beingfound in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. .Now those mutated strains are beingdetected in the United States, leaving manyfeeling unsettled and uncertain. .Don’t panic. Here are the four biggest mythsabout the COVID-19 variants: debunked. .Myth 1: The COVID-19 variants came as acomplete surprise to health experts. .According to the CDC, “viruses constantly change through mutation,” meaning these variants were anticipated.In fact, the variants have likely been aroundfor a while, health officials just didn’t noticedue to a lack of genomic sequencing. .Myth 2: The COVID-19 variants are more deadly.According to Eric Vail of Cedars-Sinai, variants typicallybecome “more infectious and less virulent.” .It’s “less likely” that a deadly variant would form becauseviruses want to spread more, not kill their hosts. .Myth 3: The current vaccines do not workagainst the COVID-19 variants. .The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear toprotect against the known COVID-19 variants, althoughthey are “less potent” against the South Africa strain. .Thankfully, mRNA vaccine platforms allowfor changes to made quickly, as they can sequenceout the specific mutations as they occur. .Myth 4: We can’t stop COVID-19variants from spreading.All of the preventative measures being usedto fight the original strain of COVID-19 canalso help against the variants. .The most potent tool: getting vaccinated.

So far, roughly 213 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States, with more than a quarter of the nation fully vaccinated. The virus is still spreading, with cases rising in many parts of the country.

Each time the virus transmits is another opportunity for a mutation to occur, potentially creating a new — and possibly more problematic — strain of the virus.

The Biden administration recently allocated $1.7 billion to fight these troubling variants. Earlier this month, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago launched an advanced molecular lab dedicated to monitoring and mitigating new strains, in the hopes of preventing outbreaks and further spread.

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Here are four things to know about COVID-19 variants:

1. What is a variant? Viruses constantly change through mutation as a natural part of evolution, and variants are expected over time. When the virus infects our cells, it replicates, and sometimes slight changes are made in those copies, causing mutations.

2. Why are variants concerning? Most of those mutations don’t matter much — either they don’t give the virus any new advantage or they disadvantage the virus, so they disappear quickly. But occasionally a variant emerges that’s better adapted to help the virus survive, perhaps by making it more infectious or more easily transmissible. Those are referred to as variants of concern.

3. If you get sick, can you tell if you have the original COVID-19 strain or a variant? As of yet, a patient or clinician can’t diagnose a variant case of COVID-19 based on symptoms or how the illness presents. Samples of the virus must be tested to determine whether the infection was caused by the original version or a new strain.

4. How can variants be prevented or mitigated? Medical experts say the same public health tools used to fight the original virus strain — masking, social distancing and vaccinating — can decrease transmission of variants of concern and help prevent new ones from emerging.

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