The Mu variant of COVID-19 has recently been gaining popularity even gaining the label “variant of interest from the World Health Organization. However, the real question is, is the Mu variant more dangerous than the Delta variant that has been wreaking havoc in the United States?
The Delta variant was first identified in India, and since then it has spread to over 170 countries, and even becoming more dominant in certain regions. In the United States, for example, Delta is now totally dominant, accounting for more than 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show.
According to information from the CDC the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19.
Studies show that Delta is highly contagious—perhaps more than twice as contagious as previous variants.
In the US, Florida currently has the highest death rate among all the states. According to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker, Florida—the third largest state by population—has a death rate of 1.56 per 100,000 people over the last seven days. Florida has averaged 15,462 new daily cases over the past week, a rate of 72 per 100,000.
Some evidence also suggests that the Delta variant, compared to the previous variants of coronavirus, is the cause of more hospitalizations and severe illness to unvaccinated individuals.
Some research has shown that individuals infected with Delta, which has been listed as a “variant of concern” by the CDC, appear to have viral loads 1,000 times higher than those seen with previous variants.
Even though vaccines prove to be quite effective against the Delta variant, there are breakthrough cases that can still occur. This means that fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can still infect others, even though they appear to be infections only for a short time.
Delta has multiple mutations on the spike protein of the virus. This particular set of mutations make the variant much more effective when it comes to binding and entering human cells, hence why it is so contagious.
Much less is known about the Mu variant, which the WHO added to its “variant of interest” (VOI) list on August 30. It was first identified in Colombia last January 2021 and has been confirmed in more than 40 countries all over the world and all of the US states.
The WHO designated Mu as a VOI due to significant outbreaks in South American countries such as Colombia and Ecuador, as well as some parts of Europe.
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In the U.S., Mu accounted for only around 0.1 percent of new infections in the week ending September 11, according to the CDC. And the proportion of new cases caused by the new variant has been falling since July as Delta has become more dominant. The CDC has not yet listed Mu as a VOI.
However, WHO officials declared that the Delta variant is far more dangerous because of its highly contagious nature.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s technical lead for COVID-19, said during a virtual press conference last Tuesday: “The Delta variant for me is the one that’s most concerning because of the increased transmissibility.”
“In some countries, the proportion of cases with the Mu variant is increasing,” Van Kerkhove said. “But in other countries, the proportion of Mu is decreasing. Where Delta is, Delta takes over really quickly.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at the press conference that any new variant has to compete with the “best of class,” which is currently Delta. This variant tends to “outcompete” other variants, he said, even if they are better at evading the protection afforded by vaccines or natural immunity.