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    Will vaccines work? Variants raise Covid-19 questions, concern

    ET Online|
    Thousands of new mutants
    1/5

    Thousands of new mutants

    Viruses continually mutate as tiny errors are introduced each time they replicate. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is no different, and has already undergone several thousand mutations since it emerged in humans in late 2019. Of the current known variants, three are particularly worrying: those initially detected in southeast England, South Africa and Brazil. There is also another group of variant strains that are currently being studied in vitro, but aren't yet circulating among the population.

    Agencies
    Many more may come
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    Many more may come

    So far more than 4,000 Covid variants have been detected. One group named after the B.1.525 mutation has seen variants appear in Scotland, Nigeria, France and Australia. Others were recently detected in California, Zambia, Uganda and Finland.

    Each occupies its own spot in the genetic family tree of SARS-CoV-2. It's a tree that is constantly growing branches. According to experts, the SARS-CoV-2 virus will continue to mutate, and as long as case figures remain high globally, the chances of significant mutations will also increase.

    Agencies
    Getting more infectious
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    Getting more infectious

    The mutation occurs on the virus' spike protein, which almost certainly makes it more effective at binding with human receptor cells. As a result, these strains are more infectious. British authorities have said since it was first identified that the English variant is 50-70 percent more transmissible than original strains, based on local observations.

    Agencies
    Not all are deadly
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    Not all are deadly

    Very few mutations will materially alter the course of the pandemic, say experts. "Among the numerous SARS-CoV-2 variants that have been detected, only a very small proportion are of public health concern," US government advisor Anthony Fauci wrote in an open letter published last week in the JAMA science journal.

    Agencies
    Vaccination & treatment worries
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    Vaccination & treatment worries

    Researchers at Harvard University are investigating the idea that the English variant could lead to longer Covid-19 infections, making individuals more contagious for longer. If that turns out to be the case, "a longer isolation period than the currently recommended 10 days after symptom onset may be needed," the researchers concluded.

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