Health leaders from around the world are keeping a close eye on the latest COVID-19 variant that is spreading in parts of South America.
The World Health Organization is monitoring the latest variant, known as mu. WHO designated it as a “variant of interest” last week and said more studies need to be done to confirm whether it could evade existing antibodies.
Mu was first documented in Colombia in January.
Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist and professor with the University of South Florida Health, said it is one of the newer variants to get a name.
“The reason that I think they’re keeping eye on it is that it has become the dominant variant in Colombia. It has outcompeted all of the variants so far,” Teng said.
Teng said the mu variant isn’t spreading quickly outside of South America. While there are some cases in the United States, he said delta is still the dominant strain.
“Frankly, I think delta has got such a transmission advantage that it’s going to be difficult for mu to take hold,” Teng said.
Dr. Kelli Tice, of Florida Blue, said it is common for the COVID virus to mutate as it continues to spread. But she said the worst-case scenario would be getting a variant that evades vaccine or treatment and causes more severe disease.
“Now we don’t have any evidence that that’s the case with the mu variant quite yet, but that is certainly the very first question that scientists are going to be looking to answer about this particular variant,” Tice said.
Tice said right now the major concern is delta, but she adds we all need to do our part to prevent transmission and future mutations.
“If we are not really watching our behaviors, we’re not keeping our distance, washing our hands, wearing our masks, and of course being vaccinated to reduce disease transmission, then we’ll actually be prone to see subsequent variant strands develop,” Tice said.
Teng adds it is going to take a worldwide effort to bring an end to the pandemic.
“This is a global problem. We need to get everybody vaccinated. That means people in South America where mu is or from Africa where beta came from. This is a global pandemic. We need global solutions,” Teng said.