It’s been over one year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. While vaccines have given many folks a light at the end of tunnel, there is a significant growing concern for infection control professionals and public health experts: emerging COVID variants. Many of these variants are more transmissible, more deadly, or require greater levels of medical care.
So, what do these variants mean in general, and for infection control in particular? This blog will look into exactly what makes these variants different and how we can reduce the spread.
What exactly is a “variant”?
When a virus infects a new cell, it initiates a process called replication so that it can make copies of itself and infect other cells. As part of this natural cycle, viruses tend to acquire mutations over time. A mutation is a change in genetic information that gets passed on to the next generation creating what is scientifically known as a virus variant.
As the COVID-19 virus spreads, it comes as no surprise that the virus has mutated. Scientists have found variants that make it easier for the virus to bind to our cells, making them more infectious.
As of April 2021, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) have three emerging variants under surveillance:
|B.1.1.7 (UK variant)||B.1.351 lineage (South African variant)||P.1 lineage (Japan/Brazil variant)|
|Origin||September 2020: UK||October 2020: Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa||December 2020: First reported in Japanese travellers from Brazil|
|Findings||Increase in transmissibility and may be associated with increased risk of death||May affect antibody neutralization (which reduces our body’s ability to resist the initial infection), but no current evidence of impact on disease severity||May affect transmissibility|
The effects of virus variants on COVID-19 vaccines
Spike proteins are a critical part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ structure. The viruses uses these spike proteins to ‘hook onto’ cells. You can see a visual representation of this below:
Figure 1: The basic mechanism of how SARS-CoV-2 infects human cells. The specialized spike proteins identify and bind to the surface receptors of the human cell to infect the host. Image courtesy of Global News.
The vaccines created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA technology to train your body against spike proteins. This means that when a vaccine enters your body, it leads to the creation of antibodies against the coronavirus, preparing it to fight off future infections.
The COVID-19 variants have mutations that changed the spike protein on the coronavirus – the part that helps gain the virus entry into human cells. Evidence is showing that these changes to the spike proteins are allowing the variants to bind more tightly to human cells and make them more contagious.
What can I do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 variants?
The new variants spread the same way as the original coronavirus. Following the advice of public health experts will help limit the spread, including:
- Frequent hand washing and mobile device hygiene
- Wearing a mask
- Physical distancing
- Staying home when you’re sick
Can UV light kill these variants?
Because the variants have a similar makeup to the original coronavirus, we can say with confidence that CleanSlate UV is able to inactivate the viruses in the same way we have a 99.995% efficacy against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The same principle applies to other UV-C solutions. CleanSlate UV leverages UV-C light technology to sanitize surfaces. UV-C light fights the virus through energy transfer, breaking up the genetic material structure in microbial DNA or RNA. Most recently, CleanSlate UV has tested against SARS-CoV-2 and found a 99.995% reduction rate!
Learn how our award-winning clients are fighting the pandemic with the CleanSlate UV. https://cleanslateuv.com/post/proper-sanitization-for-transportation-facilities-in-a-technological-world
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). SARS-CoV-2 Variants. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/variant-surveillance/variant-info.html.
 Department of Health and Social Care. (2021, January 22). NERVTAG paper on COVID-19 variant of concern B.1.1.7. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nervtag-paper-on-covid-19-variant-of-concern-b117