The last time any epidemic caused by an infectious disease was ratified as a Global Pandemic, about 40 million people had lost their lives. The late 20s of the twentieth century saw a severe outbreak of the Influenza virus, often labeled the ‘Spanish Flu’ and had earned the status of a global pandemic, lasting an uncomfortably long couple of years. Milder variants of the same virus kept recurring throughout the latter half of the twentieth century to as recent as the year 2009. Next came the Novel Coronavirus and in fewer than two months of the first cases having been diagnosed, secured the reputation of a global pandemic.
An important occurrence to note over here as well as a valuable data point would be the term ‘variant’. So what are milder or more severe ‘variants’ of the same virus? What, as known and called-to-attention more commonly, is ‘Viral Mutation’? Sometime in January 2021, U.K. had reported a new strain of the novel coronavirus. Campaigns around the new medical discovery that could potentially disrupt the current progress achieved in the field of vaccination, began soon after. Coronavirus Mutations or Covid-19 Virus Variants took over print, digital, and broadcasting media like wildfire and thus began newer concerns in the field of virology, genetics, and vaccination.
How does the Covid-19 virus mutate, and how exactly can it affect vaccines?
To begin with, Viral Mutations are quite common, contrary to the scary and often dramatic assumption that something’s going wrong again! News of Coronavirus Mutations or Covid-19 Virus Variants have confused so many of us. What is called ‘Mutation’ in medical terms, can be simply understood as an anomaly/mistake in the genetic material of the virus when it’s trying to replicate itself.
More on this subject, later. It is imperative to know at this point, that RNA viruses (for example, the Coronavirus) mutate more often than DNA viruses (like Herpes) resulting in the viral creation of new genetic material a.k.a. Virus Variants. Now here is how this mutation works. Viruses need to keep making copies of themselves to survive and infect the host cell enabled by ‘spike proteins’. When they invade a host cell, they transfer their genetic material (RNA, in the case of the Coronavirus) to mingle with the host cell and create proteins. While reading or translating this genetic code, anomalies or ‘mistakes’ may occur, resulting in a variant of the same virus which will then look for greener pastures trying to infect a new cell.
Now let’s move on to the medical consequences that mutation can lead to. We’ve been plagued by the thought of whether or not the ongoing research will be able to account for these newer strains. What if the current vaccines cannot satisfy the changing variants of the existing virus? Well, the good news is that researchers and virologists were already prepared for the situation at hand. Once vaccinated, the host body will nativize antibodies that will have the ability to identify and combat a range of mutations that they’re confronted with. What’s more; experts say that existing vaccines can even be upgraded to blanket these virus variants and keep boosting our immunity.
The mutation is a cell-level occurrence, one that is beyond our power to govern. So why not come to what we can control instead? What we already know is that the virus replicates and that while replicating, there is a chance that the genetic code will change, as a result of which, it will mutate. Therefore, the more the virus replicates, the more it mutates. Now every time the virus copies itself, the replica goes looking for a newer host to infect, drawing us closer to the pivot of our problem. The more the virus spreads, the more it replicates. So if the spread of the infection can be contained, the mutation can be minimized. Having said that, we still don’t know aplenty and as the time-weathered saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
A final word of caution, however; if you’re showing symptoms, pathology labs like Pathkind offer an array of covid-related services where you can get yourself tested. Pathkind Pathology labs run all kinds of Government approved tests for coronavirus-detection and inspection like RT-PCR and Antibody tests, performed by well-trained technical personnel . In case you test positive, go into self-quarantine or visit a hospital.