Coronavirus: The more we facilitate its spread, the more mutations we get
By Dr. Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt Medical Center
Kaieteur News – As you may know, recent evidence of a mutated coronavirus (Sarscov2) strain has been emerging in the UK and South Africa. These strains appear to be more infectious and have been associated with the recent surge in outbreaks in those countries. These are not the first set of mutated strains of the virus; scientists have already discovered more than 20 mutated strains and expect more to happen as the virus continues to spread. Today, I will discuss why these mutations may pose a threat to our livelihood in the long run if we do not take appropriate action to prevent the spread.
What happens when viruses mutate?
Viruses tend to roll as they jump from host to host. The more guests they infect, the longer they are around and the more likely they are to change their structure and thus mutate. Mutations can make the virus more infectious, less infectious, more fatal or less lethal. Most of the time, the mutations weaken the effects of the virus but less often, it can make it more infectious or deadly. The strain found in the UK and South Africa is thought to be more infectious. What is worrying about this fact is that the higher the infection rate, the more likely the health systems will become overwhelmed resulting in higher death rates.
What does this mean for us in Guyana?
I do not believe that the rolling strain of the UK and South Africa is with us in Guyana so far. However, it has already been discovered in countries with high traffic to Guyana such as Canada and the USA. It may be only a matter of time before he gets here and creates more chaos. If this were to happen, I’m worried about an overburdened system that I’m warning about.
How will this affect current vaccines?
Scientists are still investigating the effects of the new strain on the effectiveness of current vaccines they have developed. So far, the vaccines appear to be effective against UK stress but there are some doubts about the South African strain. Scientists fear that the vaccines may be less effective against South African strains and may have to adapt vaccines to accommodate the change in the structure of this strain. The biggest concern is that if we remain reckless and allow this virus to spread, it will roll faster and become like the flu virus, which cannot be eradicated, and is new vaccines must be developed every year to keep up with it.
How can mutations be avoided?
Obviously we do not want a situation where this virus cannot be eradicated because it is rolling faster than we can vaccinate to control its spread. The best way to keep the mutation under control is to avoid spreading the virus. Thankfully, the same preventative measures stand the test of time and work against the spread of the rolling stress. Unless there is a miracle, I see no significant proportion of Guyanese and the world population being vaccinated in the first half of this year to control the spread of this virus. So we need to get together and wear our masks, watch our distance from others and wash / sanitize our hands regularly. If we do this and we get it right, I believe that we can keep the coronavirus mutations under control until we are all vaccinated and eradicated.