ZOOM – Appeared in January in Colombia, the Mu variant is now dominant in this country and is spreading all over the world. It was classified at the end of August as a “variant to follow” by the WHO. Here is what we know about him.
Would Mu be the new Delta? Identified for the first time in January in Colombia, the new variant of the coronavirus, called Mu or B.1.621, worries. In this South American country, it is now predominant and is the cause of the deadliest wave of the pandemic last spring, health authorities said Thursday.
“More or less 60% of the deaths that we have sequenced are from this lineage”, explained on a local radio an official of the National Institute of Health, Marcela Mercado. Contaminations and deaths reached a record high between April and June 2021, with up to 700 deaths per day, and a hospital system on the verge of collapse.
At the end of August, it was classified as “variant to follow” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Here is what we know about the B.1.621 variant, according to scientific nomenclature.
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Where has this mutation already been spotted and in what proportions?
The global prevalence of this variant among sequenced cases is currently less than 0.1%, but it has “constantly increased” in Colombia and Ecuador, where it is now responsible for around 39% and 13% of infections, respectively, reports the WHO. As of August 29, 4,500 sequences had been deposited on GISAID, a reference platform where data shared by laboratories that study genomes are listed, specifies on Twitter the director of the Covid-19 technical team at the WHO, Maria Van Kerkhove.
In total, recalls Marcela Mercado of the Colombian National Institute of Health, Mu has already been identified “in more than 43 countries”, in South America, but also in Europe. In France, the Mu variant appeared for the first time in May 2021. It has since been detected 105 times, without succeeding in establishing itself, according to data from Public Health France (SPF), which notes that its level of traffic remains overall very low. Its prevalence rate is currently 0.3% or less, indicates SPF, which specifies that the mutation was not detected during the last two Flash sequencing surveys, which are carried out every week on a sample of positive swabs.
Is there a risk that Mu will gain the upper hand over the Delta variant?
“At this time it is not known how B.1.621 will behave in relation to Delta and this variant is being carefully monitored, although increased transmission compared to Delta seems unlikely.”, also notes Public Health France. For health authorities, Mu “does not appear to present any characteristics giving it a competitive advantage over Delta” and therefore might never become dominant. “No data on the severity is available to date”, they add.
Is the variant resistant to vaccines?
Mu is the fifth “variant of interest” to be monitored by the WHO since March. It has a number of mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines, warns the UN agency. The preliminary data from Public Health England show reduced vaccine efficacy “similar to that observed for the Beta variant”, initially identified in South Africa, is developing the WHO. Messenger RNA vaccines remain 77% effective against the beta variant. However, further research is needed to confirm possible resistance to the vaccine.
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