FOR a while now we have been hearing the terms “strains and variants” of SARSCOV2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Especially with variants there have been a lot of terms that are not just confusing to someone not so interested in medical jargon or anyone with little patience.
Other than being complicated names, there has been a danger of causing stigma and indeed stigma has been caused against people of the country bearing the name of the said variant because it has until most recently been acceptable to also name variants based on their country of origin.
The most common ones being the “UK variant,” for the variant that is believed to have started from the UK, the “South African variant” believed to have originated from South Africa, the “Brazilian variant” one from believed to be from Brazil and now most recently the “Indian variant” thought to be from India and very soon we will be hearing of the “Taiwanese variant’ from Taiwan. Not too long ago Mr Khankhara, a Zambian of Indian heritage, a businessman and the proprietor of “Flash Buses” arguably the majority minibuses commuting within Lusaka city, expressed his displeasure of how most Zambians had become discriminatory against our brothers and sisters from India or anyone of Indian origin because of the detection of the “Indian variant” in Zambia.
He said the shops especially in Kamwala were shunned and there has been name calling in some sectors. This is so sad and clearly the naming of the variants had much to do with fueling such stigma.
THE COUNTRY NAMED FOR THE VARIANT MAY NOT BE THE ORIGINAL SOURCE
In light of such and other reasons the World Health Organisation (WHO) has decided to rename these variants. This will not just make it easy to follow but also will help remove this dark stain of ethnic stigma associated with names depicting “countries of origin.”
Covid 19-is a pandemic, meaning the disease is everywhere in the world. So simply put, the variant can originate from any corner of the Earth at any moment. Actually, the so-called country of origin may not be the source of the variant in the truest sense of the word.
Sometimes it is just a matter of how soon some countries report on their findings that makes them seem to be the source of a said variant when in the actual sense they may not be. A good example is the famous so-called “Spanish flu” of 1918 to 1920 that is said to have killed close to 100 million people globally. The first observations of illness and mortality were documented in the United States (in Kansas) in March 1918, then in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
To maintain morale, World War I censors minimised these early reports. Spain being neutral could report freely, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. This gave rise to the name “Spanish” flu
WHAT IS A VARIANT?
All viruses, including SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 evolve over time. when a virus replicates or makes copies of itself, it sometimes changes a little bit, which is normal for a virus.
These changes are called “mutations.” A virus with one or more new mutations is referred to as a “variant” of the original virus. Please note the “first” virus, the wild type, the D614G, the one first reported in China is not a variant, it is the original one from which others are referred to.
Recently there have been debates which are still on going over the actual origin of the virus, the “Wuhan leak lab theory” is facing a lot of scrutiny.it is one theory that was earlier seen as a conspiracy but now most scientists are revisiting it. Of course, this is also causing friction amongst nnnnations, notably the United States and China.
RENAMED AFTER THE GREEK ALPHABET
The World Health Organisation (WHO) |has renamed the variants after the Greek alphabet according to their chronological order in relation to their detection.
The Greek alphabet has 24 letters from Alpha to Omega. Currently the variants of concern are Four: Alpha, Beta, Gamm , Delta but with one “blossoming“ in Taiwan.
The “UK variant” becomes the ALPHA being the first to mutate from the 8riginal one detected in China. the “South African” one becomes BETA, the “Brazilian” GAMMA and “the Indian one “ DELTA.
In Zambia we have both the BETA and the DELTA variants. I really wish we could end here but with Taiwan already talking of having detected a “hybrid mutant” of the Alpha and Delta variants, which the Health ministry permanent secretary says is very contagious and more deadly than variants before it.
We are surely going to have an addition to the list. Coupled with the country’s complaicency the new “ hybrid mutant” is thought to be behind the current surge in Taiwan, the country that was once praised to have had the situation under control.
WHAT CAUSES A VIRUS TO CHANGE TO A NEW VARIANT?
I have explained this time over and over again. When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it replicates – and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes. Super spreader events like campaign rallies, bars, parties etc easily fuel the spread of the virus and risk causing new mutations. Most viral mutations have little to no impact on the virus’s ability to cause infections and disease.
But depending on where the changes are located in the virus’s genetic material, they may affect a virus’s properties, such as transmission (for example, it may spread more or less easily) or severity (for example, it may cause more or less severe disease). And all these significant changes have been happening on the spike protein of the virus.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT FUTURE NEW VARIANTS OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS?
WHO advises: Stopping the spread at the source remains key. current measures to reduce transmission – including frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, physical distancing, good ventilation and avoiding crowded places or closed settings – continue to work against new variants by reducing the amount of viral transmission and therefore also reducing opportunities for the virus to mutate.
WE COULD BE THE NEXT TAIWAN?
Just as a reminder and word of caution, Zambia has both the BETA and DELTA variants which we risk throwing them in the same pot making a new more infectious and deadlier concoction like in Taiwan if we don’t change course. The rates of admissions and severity of infections is really overwhelming but what surprises is outside the hospital and the Covid centres it is business as usual.
I wonder what will really make us change. I really hope we reach the OMEGA of these variants of concern before we reach ZETA though I think the Taiwan hybrid is likely to be EPSILON and the latest global threat. And we could be next.
UNTIL THEN, ALUTA CONTINUA, THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES.
*PLEASE MASK UP PROPERLY; IF YOUR MASK IS NOT COVERING YOUR NOSE, PLEASE THROW IT AWAY. (DR. MASUWA 2021);
*OBSERVE HAND HYGIENE.
*OBSERVE REASONABLE PHYSICAL DISTANCE, PLEASE THIS IS NO TIME FOR CLUBS AND PARTIES.
AND BECAUSE YOU CARE, PLEASE KINDLY SHARE.