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New Strain New Worries

Dec 23, 2020

With the new year looming news of a mutated form of the Coronavirus has hit the country. But what does a new strain mean and why does the virus mutate to begin with.

2020 has been a difficult year to say the least, and with the year drawing to a close hope from a vaccine helped to shine some light on a brighter 2021. But these hopes were diminished somewhat as news broke of a new variant of the covid-19 virus, one that is more easily passed from one person to the next. Unlike bacteria Viruses are not alive however they can adapt to their surroundings and this is generally to help the virus spread more effectively. 

All viruses have proteins which can be thought of as markers on their outer shell, these proteins help the body identify the virus as a threat. In response the human body sends out its army of fighter cells to get rid of the virus before it can cause any harm. If a person is exposed to a virus which they have not had before the body will take longer to recognise the virus as harmful and deal with it. This gives the virus enough time for it to replicate enough so that it can cause unwanted effects to the host. One could argue that the sole purpose of a virus is to replicate as many times as possible in as many people or hosts as it can. The longer this virus can go un-detected in the body the more symptoms will present. If the virus is spread by droplets in saliva then coughing (caused by the virus) will help expel and send the virus out in the air where other hosts who are not infected can easily be targeted. So in essence the coughing is a kind of like a pollination effect which the virus needs in order to spread itself. This can be compared to the likes of a dandelion which needs the wind in order to carry its seeds to new areas where it can grow.

Small variances in viruses can cause them to behave differently, for instance if a virus was coded to only last only seconds outside the human host then this mutation would not replicate and effectively be wiped out. This goes against the aim of a virus which is to spread, therefore the more successful variations and mutations will thrive and spread more rapidly. Therefore the news of the new strain of COVID-19 and it being more transmissible than the original strain is not surprising. The more easily a virus is capable of spreading in humans the more danger it poses. The new strain goes by the name B.1.1.7, and the Prime Minister has stated that it could be 70% more effective at spreading than the previous strain. Although the COVID-19 virus has been mutating and showing different variations for many months, this particular variation is causing more of a stir due to the speed at which its spreading.

Rest assured that scientists are hard at work trying to track the progress of all COVID-19 strains, the vaccine is still likely to protect against all known strains so protecting each other has never been as important as It is now. Follow the latest government advice here.


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