Virus variants: How does the coronavirus mutate into new strains?

Coronavirus

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — The coronavirus continues to mutate with new strains that have proven even more transmissible than the first variant to spread across the globe. Doctors and public health officials are asking people to get vaccinated to slow the replication of the virus – and, by doing so, the creation of new, potentially deadlier variants.

“As with a lot of viruses, the coronavirus makes mistakes when it makes copies of itself,” said Dr. Steven Threlkeld, from Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, “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 said. “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.

“We saw this early on in that the old Wuhan or original wild-type strain was replaced by the Alpha variant,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “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.”

The United States and many other countries are currently experiencing a surge of the delta variant. Other variants have been detected around the globe, with the gamma variant first detected in Japan and the lambda variant surfacing in Peru.

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 urge those who have not been vaccinated to get the shot as quickly as possible.

Dr. Threlkeld warns, “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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