COVID-19 New Variants: The Science Behind Virus Mutations and How To Keep Yourself Safe
When World Health Organization declared COVID -19 as a pandemic in March 2020, entire world got cooped up indoors fearing the deadly virus, that brought everything to a halt overnight. Even as the medical fraternity sat and took notice of this never-heard-before super contagious, viral infection that primarily affected lungs, claiming thousands of lives daily in despair, the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutated causing one mutation after the other.
While it is common for the viruses to mutate, certain variants like delta (B.1.617.2) can be lethal and the current Omicron (B.1.1.529), exhibiting highest transmission rate.
How Do Viruses Mutate?
The word virus mutation sounds dangerous but not all changes are significant or concerning. While certain mutations can be minor ones without leaving any impact on its transmission, complications thus caused - few variants like Delta, Omicron are designated as Variant of Concern (VoC) by the World Health Organization, after studying different factors.
Virologists and other medical experts keenly study on how viruses replicate and gain immunity against vaccines through two ways – antigenic drift and antigenic shift.
An antigenic drift happens when the genes undergo arbitrary genetic mutations, eventually leading to alteration in the surface protein or antigens of the virus.
An antigenic shift is when influenza viruses undergo a sudden, major transformation in the virus’s antigens but far less frequently than antigenic drift.
Essentially, when one variant pops up, the other dwindles but if the new mutation is leading to increased number of hospitalizations, deaths and long-term health complications then it’s time to act swiftly and do not let the guard down.
How To Safeguard Yourself From Coronavirus Variants?
COVID-19 unfortunately is growing strength to strength even after two years. In the last 24 months, enormous research is being conducted with a hope to contain it, at least to a certain extent. The Standard Operating Procedure, that has been unanimously agreed and being followed diligently worldwide is wearing a mask covering nose and mouth, frequent washing of palms, fingers with hand sanitizer, maintaining social distance and avoiding unnecessary travel.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is one of the easiest and effective ways to combat coronavirus. Currently, there are two types of vaccines available in India Covishield and Covaxin for the adults, aged above 18.
The immunization program for the younger children between the age group 15 to 18 started and the only vaccine that has been approved for it is Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Meanwhile, the Government of India has also given a nod for ‘precautionary shots’ to doctors, frontline health workers and older adults above 60 with comorbidities.
Use Hand Sanitizer:
One of the most effective ways to neutralize the virus is washing hands with alcohol-based hand wash or sanitizer. Rub the liquid for at least 20 seconds on the palms, between the fingers to kill the virus.
Wear A Mask:
Always wear a mask covering mouth and nose to prevent any contact with the virus. Do it without fail while stepping out as it prevents you from inhaling any kind of virus lurking in the environment around.
Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet guards you from this contagious virus mutations, that spread mostly through human contact. Stay away from people as it transmits faster in the air when someone standing you sneezes or coughs.
Avoid Unnecessary Travel:
Do not travel and avoid it as much as possible. If you have to step out, avoid travelling by public transport or in vehicles that are crowded. Always wear a mask and keep hand sanitizer handy while travelling.
Ignorance is never a bliss, especially in these tough times. Being vigilant and aware of the Coronavirus, the mutations and the ways to prevent it aids in staying healthy and combat this deadly pandemic effectively. Do not get stressed and put yourself into a panic mode.
If you observe symptoms like fever, cough, cold, loss of smell, taste, fatigue, headache, diarrhoea, talk to your doctor immediately.
Keep a pulse oximeter within the reach to check the oxygen saturation. If it goes below 94, do contact emergency medical care for immediate assistance.
If you have any comorbidities, ensure keeping all vital parameters under check.
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