While the mu variant of the coronavirus has continued to slowly spread throughout the world over the last several months — including in 49 U.S. states — local and state health officials say Washingtonians shouldn’t be too concerned at this point.
The variant was first identified in Colombia in January and has since caused isolated outbreaks in South America, Europe and the United States. Last month, the World Health Organization listed mu as a “variant of interest” because of concerns that it could make vaccines and treatments less effective. However, more evidence is needed, the WHO said.
In Washington, the variant was first detected in April.
A virus must be able to survive in the “real world” and outcompete other variants, such as the delta variant, in order to have a large impact on community health, he added.
Coronavirus cases involving the mu variant haven’t seen much traction statewide, though experts are continuing to monitor its spread, according to Teresa McCallion, spokesperson for the state Department of Health.
In August, there were 3,442 specimens sequenced from Washington residents, with mu representing about 0.4% of sequenced cases — compared to 98.2% of cases represented by the delta variant, McCallion said.
More data is needed to better analyze the variant, but Duchin said Wednesday mu may “never become a contender” among other coronavirus variants.
Globally, the delta variant remains more dominant in almost all of the 174 countries where it’s been detected. According to The Associated Press, mu accounts for fewer than 1% of coronavirus cases throughout the world.
though it could be responsible for about 39% of cases in Colombia.
Scientists generally monitor emerging coronavirus variants based on suspicious genetic changes and then look for evidence to determine whether the new version is more infectious or causes more severe illness. Viruses evolve constantly and many new variants often fade away.
The mu variant “is of interest to us because of the combination of mutations it has,” said the WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove. “But it doesn’t seem to be circulating.”
Material from The Associated Press and New York Daily News was used in this story.