December 7, 2023

Mukesh Bhardwaj cries as he sits next to his wife, who is receiving free oxygen support for people with respiratory problems, outside a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ghaziabad, India. May 3, 2021.

Adnan Abidi | Reuters

The World Health Organization is tracking 10 variants of coronavirus “of concern” or “worrying” around the world, including two that were first discovered in the US and one triple mutant that is wreaking havoc in India as a potential global threat to the world public health.

New strains of Covid-19 emerge every day as the virus continues to mutate, but only a handful make the WHO official watch list an “variant of interest” or the more serious term “variant of concern” which is commonly defined as a mutated strain that is more contagious, more deadly, and more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.

The organization has identified three strains as variants of concern: B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK and is currently the most common strain in the US; B. 1.351, detected for the first time in South Africa, and the P.1 variant, detected for the first time in Brazil.

An interesting variant is the B.1617 variant or the triple mutated strain that was first found in India. However, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said more studies are needed to fully understand its significance.

“There are actually a number of virus variants that are being discovered around the world and that we must all properly assess,” said Van Kerkhove. Scientists are studying how much each variant circulates in local areas, whether the mutations change the severity or transmission of the disease, and other factors, before being classified as a new public health threat.

“The information comes quickly and furiously,” she said. “There are new variants being identified and reported every day, not all of which are important.”

Other variants classified as variants of interest include B.1525, which was first detected in the UK and Nigeria; B.1427 / B.1429, recorded for the first time in the USA; P.2, first discovered in Brazil; P.3, first discovered in Japan and the Philippines; S477N, first detected in the USA, and B.1.616, first detected in France.

Van Kerkhove said the classifications are determined, at least in part, by sequencing capabilities, which vary from country to country. “It’s been really sketchy so far,” she said.

She said the agency is also viewing local epidemiologists as an extension of the agency’s “eyes and ears” to better understand the local situation and identify other potentially dangerous variants.

“It is important that we have the right discussions to determine which ones are important to the public health value. This means that doing so changes our ability to use public health social measures or any of our medical countermeasures.” , she said.

“We’re getting the right people together in the room to discuss what these mutations mean,” she said. “We need the global community to work together, and they are.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have a list of four variants of interest and five variants of concern that is similar to the WHO list, although the CDC mainly focuses on variants that are causing new outbreaks in the United States.

Van Kerkhove said a number of countries “have some worrying trends, some worrying signs of rising case numbers, increasing hospitalization rates and increasing ICU rates in countries that do not yet have access to the vaccine and that have not achieved the required levels of coverage.” really having these effects on serious illness and death and transmission. “