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B.1.1.529 Covid Variant - Nu

The global markets and new travel restrictions are reacting to more Covid bad news. There was even a sell off in bitcoin, something that my millennial son will be unhappy about. We are tracking a new variant that was first named in South Africa called B.1.1.529 and will likely be given the next Greek name; Nu. Scientists and virologists are closely following the mutation which was discovered in Botswana on November 11. It was quickly identified in South Africa three days later (they have invested in genomic sequencing, thank you very much!) and now Belgium announced they have a case of a woman who traveled to Egypt but was never in Africa. It has been found also in Israel. So there it is...there are no borders when it comes to a virus and travel restrictions simply don't work! It might make governments feel like they are doing something proactive but there is no evidence that they work to prevent spread of a virus.

What makes this variation worrisome is that it has 32 mutations on the spike protein. Remember the spike protein is the key into our cells. Delta had only 9 spike changes. We don't know how dangerous these mutations are but we are interested in these spike protein mutations because they have the potential to increase transmissibility, escape our vaccines and increase severity of illness and death. We don't know yet if B.1.1.529 will do any (or all) of these things. Many of these mutations on B.1.1.529 have not been seen before.

It will take weeks to understand what these variations mean and how they affect humans. Thanks to South Africa's quick identification, we caught this early. Hong Kong has such good contact tracing that we know B.1.1.529 is highly contagious. The first case was a 36 year old fully vaccinated (May/June 2021) male who tested negative after traveling to South Africa. He was required to quarantine and tested positive on day 4. One disease modeling scientist estimated that B.1.1.529 is 500% more transmissible than the original Covid-19 virus.

Thanks to the mRNA vaccine technology, we can easily alter a vaccine to deal with variants. We caught this mutation early and it is being tracked closely. An updated vaccine can be produced in 6 weeks if needed.

What should you do? Get vaccinated and boosted and continue to mask in crowded places. We don't need to lock down borders, crash the stock market, close schools, close businesses or panic.

There have been no cases reported in the US at this time but that will likely change.

Hat tip to Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH-PhD for her expert information about all things Covid.


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