Another strain of the coronavirus has arrived in North Texas with Dallas County officials reporting they’ve detected multiple cases of the mu variant.
Health experts say it still accounts for less than half of 1% of all cases across the state. Still, they’re keeping a close eye on it.
"It is a variant of interest as designated by the World Health Organization,” said Baylor College of Medicine Executive Vice President and Dean of Clinical Affairs Dr. James McDeavitt.
That means it’s on the radar. Still, it hasn't risen to a variant of concern like the delta variant, which still accounts for 99.9% of Texas cases.
"It does not appear to be outcompeting the delta variant and doesn't appear to be a major concern at this point,” he said.
But though it’s not necessarily more contagious or deadly, health officials said the mu variant’s presence is proof that the virus continues to change.
To understand why that matters, Dr. McDeavitt says to think of the virus, or at least the protein it produces, as a lock and the body's antibody response as the key. As the virus mutates, it changes shape and the immune response, along with vaccines and current COVID treatments, may become less likely to fit, or in other words, less likely to fight the virus.
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McDeavitt said that’s what doctors hope to avoid, though some mutation is inevitable as the virus continues spreading around the world.
"We've been fortunate so far that none of the variants have been these variants of high consequence. But the longer this goes, the more likely it is that we'll see one of those which just speaks to the importance of getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible to get this to fade into the background,” said McDeavitt.
In addition to vaccines, he said current precautions like masking and social distancing remain the best tools in fighting all known variants.