Variants of the virus that causes covid-19

    • Brief

    • Viruses are different from bacteria and fungi, as they can only replicate inside the living cells of another organism (e.g. plant, animal, human). This replication happens very fast and during this process very slight changes in genetic makeup (mutations) of the virus happen. The change is usually so small that its has little or no effect on how easily the virus spread or how ill it makes the organism that it infects. However, sometimes the changes have a large effect on how the virus functions and that is considered a new variant. When covid-19 started spreading around the world, many scientists started to identify new variants of the virus.

      A lot has been said and written of about covid-19 variants, and fears have been expressed about new variants being more infectious, more harmful or even more deadly. All covid-19 variants make people sick and are dangerous. The most talked-about are the delta and omicron variants, because they cause more severe disease and spread faster respectively.

    • About variants

    • Viruses change all the time. These genetic changes (mutations) are due to errors when the virus replicates (copies itself) inside a host organism's cell. Most of these changes are very small and they do not affect the way the virus functions. Sometimes, however, a change does make the virus behave differently. This changed virus is known as a variant. The changes can affect how easily a virus spreads, the severity of the disease it causes and even make medicines and vaccines less effective against it. Even though virus variants are to be expected, they do generate a lot of concern.

    • What you should know about covid-19 virus variants

      • Changes to the virus that causes covid-19 will continue to occur, so more variants are to be expected over time. However, limiting infections by taking preventative measures and by getting vaccinated, will slow down the rate at which variant show up.
      • Some variants may cause more sickness and even severe organ damage. Other variants may be more contagious and spread faster through the population.
      • All of the WHO-approved covid-19 vaccines help to reduce the spread of the virus and its variants and the severity of the disease.
      • Even when you are fully vaccinated, your should continue to take preventative measures, such as regularly washing your hands with soap, wearing a face mask in crowded places, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a paper tissue, and keeping a distance between you and other people. This will slow down infections and, subsequently, virus variants from occurring.
    • Delta variant

    • The delta variant was first identified in India in October 2020. Since then, it has spread around the world only to be replaced by omicron as the main (dominant) variant. The delta variant was more than twice as contagious as previous variants, and it was more likely than the original virus to put infected people in the hospital. Unvaccinated people were much more at risk of being hospitalised.

    • Omicron variant

    • The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa in November 2021. It is now the dominant variant in most parts of the world, it is more infectious and spreads faster than previous variants. This reduces the effectiveness vaccinations, but they still work against the disease. In many countries, booster (third and sometimes fourth) shots are being offered to improve the effectiveness of the vaccines against this variant.