By Orville Williams
The B.1.621 or “Mu” variant of the Covid-19 virus has been circulating in the Americas since January of this year, according to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and there are no immediate fears that it will become a variant of concern, despite being detected in more countries in recent weeks.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is the latest country in the region to report that the World Health Organization (WHO)-listed variant of interest has been identified within its shores, following detections in Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Haiti.
“This new variant doesn’t generate any change and it’s not a special threat; [it] is a variant that has been circulating for several months,” said Dr Jairo Mendez, advisor on emerging viral diseases at PAHO.
So far, only the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants of the virus have been designated “variants of concern” by the WHO, while others have been named “variants of interest”, including the Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda and now, Mu.
All four variants of concern have been identified in Antigua and Barbuda and the twin island state is currently experiencing a drastic spike of infections, with over 500 active cases reported.
Concerns about the Mu variant possibly adding to those woes have been dampened by Dr Mendez, who explained further that there would need to be proof of drastic change in the impact of the variant for PAHO to be overly concerned about its spread.
“To be considered a variant of concern, it has to be demonstrated with solid laboratory evidence that the virus is in fact more transmissible, that it has the capacity to evade the immune response or to generate more severe disease.
“None of this has been demonstrated so far for Mu…[it] has been circulating at least since January this year and no particular impact in transmission or lethality has been demonstrated so far.”
He added that, as there was still a shortage of data about the Mu, any attempt to predict the spread would only be speculation at this point.
“We can expect sporadic detection in other countries, including in the Caribbean of course, but we have no sufficient information to say what the impact may be, particularly [amid] the circulation of different variants of concern, where the increased transmissibility has actually been demonstrated.”
The Mu variant was first identified in Colombia in January this year and it has been affecting that country the worst, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all Covid cases, according to the WHO.