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COVID-19 Variants: What to Know

COVID-19 Variants: What to Know

As COVID-19 continues to surge in North Dakota, you probably have heard that an increasing number of cases are linked to the delta variant, a mutated form of the original COVID-19 coronavirus. Don’t let the term “variant” confuse you: variants aren’t unexpected. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that all viruses change over time, but most variants don’t have much of an impact on how the virus spreads, the virus’ symptoms, the severity of illness, vaccine efficacy or treatment.

In some cases, however, variants are cause for concern. That’s what we’re currently seeing with the delta variant of COVID-19.

How Do Covid-19 Variants Develop? Man gets tested for COVID-19 with a nose swab.

When a virus spreads from person to person, it replicates as it spreads. The more it spreads, the more opportunity for the virus to change.

According to the WHO, each virus contains nucleotides, a series of four molecules that—in COVID-19—are represented by the letters A, C, G and U. For a virus, like COVID-19, these molecules appear in a specific order that is almost 30,000 letters long. This string of letters is known as a genome sequence.

When the virus spreads from person to person, the genome sequence replicates, usually staying in the same order. Sometimes, however, as the virus spreads, the sequence gets out of order. As this change in sequence repeats, a variant develops.

In most cases, slight changes in the sequence don’t have a major impact on the virus, and the general public won’t even be aware of the variant. These weaker variants don’t work as well and eventually stop spreading. In other cases, like what we’ve seen with the delta variant, the genome sequence of nucleotides can make the virus stronger, and this allows the variant to thrive.

So far, the WHO has identified 19 variants (named for letters of the Greek alphabet) across multiple counties. Four variants—the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants—have been confirmed in North Dakota.

Fortunately, the current COVID-19 tests can diagnose all the COVID-19 variants, and the COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent severe illness and death, even with the variants.

Woman get's a COVID-19 vaccine in her arm. Vaccines Are the Best Way to Protect Against Variants

We don’t know yet if cases will continue to rise this fall and winter like last year. But the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 and all its variants is to get a vaccine. The overwhelming majority of people who are being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The vaccine is free, safe and effective. Even if you do get a breakthrough infection, you are highly unlikely to get a severe case of COVID-19.

You can also help reduce the spread of the variants by wearing a mask indoors, even if you are around other vaccinated people. Wearing a mask protects you and protects other people.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or you want to get a vaccine, Altru Express Care has you covered. Make an appointment today.