(WXYZ) — Another COVID variant has been added to the World Health Organization’s ‘variant of interest’ list. It’s been named ‘Mu’ and was first identified in Columbia in January 2021.
The World Health Organization started monitoring this variant back in March. “Mu” as it’s being called, is also known as B.1.621. It was first identified in Columbia, as you mentioned, but it can now be found in 39 countries, including the United Kingdom and here in the US.
Overall, the Mu variant makes up less than 0.1% of infections around the world. There’s been a mix of sporadic cases along with larger outbreaks, mostly in South America and Europe. And even though sequenced cases of it have declined globally, it appears to be spreading and gaining ground in Colombia and Ecuador.
The reason why the World Health Organization added Mu to its watchlist is because of its mutations.
It has the P681H mutation which is linked to faster transmission and is also found on the Alpha variant. It also has two other worrisome mutations - E484K and K417N. These could help the Mu variant evade immunity defenses that people have developed from either getting vaccinated or from having a past infection.
It’s also possible that monoclonal antibody treatments may not work as well against the Mu variant - preliminary data does suggest this - but what we really need is for this variant to be studied more. So right now, we’re just can’t say with certainty that Mu is more contagious, causes more severe disease, or evades our vaccines and treatments.
Here in the US, the Mu variant makes up only 0.2% of all cases. It’s a tiny slice of the pie. This variant has not spread like wildfire as we’ve seen with the Alpha and Delta variants. That’s not to say it won’t happen. Viruses constantly change in order to survive. No one has a crystal ball to see what’s going to happen next. But I can tell you, if more of us get vaccinated, that will help to box in the virus. It leaves less room for it to evolve and change into something that’s a lot more dangerous and deadlier.
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