We know that there are new variants of the coronavirus circulating around the world, but do they cause different symptoms?
Almost a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, we already have vaccines, but we also have new variants of the virus, which are already circulating throughout the world, but we do not know that from the symptoms they cause, but from a genetic screening of the mutations.
Of course, knowing that something like the coronavirus mutated is worrisome, but it was not surprising for virologists either.
Viruses need other cells to reproduce, they cannot do it on their own, that is why we say they are not alive.
Inside our cells they use part of our genetic material to replicate: Each « child » virus is a copy of the original virus that entered the cell to infect. Those copies are not always perfect and small errors occur, which we call mutations.
Mutations are tracked by comparing the genetic code of the « parent » viruses and that of those circulating in infected populations; a group of viruses that share these mutations is what is called a variant.
Currently we have identified at least three variants that cause us concern: B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the UK; the B.1.351, from South Africa, and the lineage P.1, which probably originated in Brazil.
All those variants are still the same virus: SARS-CoV-2, what cause COVID-19, and we already know that although there may be many asymptomatic cases, many people who are infected present a series of very well identified symptoms.
According to World Health Organization, the most common symptoms are: fever, dry cough, and fatigue. Besides that some people may have headache and throat, muscle discomfort, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, diarrhea and loss of taste or smell.
If the infection becomes severe, there is shortness of breath, which can be measured by blood oxygenation levels drop. This is dangerous and then you have to seek hospital treatment.
From what we now know, infections with the new variants can only be identified by genetic analysis, because the symptoms remain the same: It is not possible for you to distinguish yourself if you are infected by one variant or another.
Why do we care about these variants?
In the UK, infections with variant B.1.1.7 have been followed, and although the symptoms do not change, they are more common: fatigue, sore throat and muscle pain; In addition, it has been seen that loss of taste and smell seem less common in these cases.
The most worrying thing about this variant is that has been shown to be more contagious and although it does not cause different symptoms, it seems that it does take more people to hospitals, so it could be more deadly.
So far it appears that current vaccines will provide protection against these variants.
Either way, whether we are vaccinated or not, we have to continue to be careful, wearing a mask, avoiding crowded places, washing our hands continuouslyAll these measures are very effective no matter which variant of the coronavirus is involved.