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Virginia health officials say new COVID-19 variant is in state

The World Health Organization is now calling it a "variant of interest," meaning it has the potential to transmit quickly from person to person.

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia health officials are reporting a new variant of COVID-19. It's called the 'Mu variant' and it's popping up in regions across the Commonwealth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is now calling it a "variant of interest," meaning it could have one of the following things:

  • they have specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding at the cellular level
  • reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination
  • reduced efficacy of treatments
  • potential diagnostic impact
  • predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity

The Mu variant has been seen in countries across the globe and it has recently appeared in the United States.

Brandy Darby, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said her department is constantly tracking the variants of COVID-19, with the latest being the Mu. She said lab results show the new strain in various parts of Virginia.

"We have many different 'irons in the fire,' if you will," said Darby. "This variant has potential that it could become concerning over time."

Darby said the latest lab results show Mu is not as transmissible as the Delta variant, but it may have a stronger impact against the vaccine, similar to what health experts saw earlier this year with the Beta variant.

"So far we haven't seen it out-compete Delta," Darby explained. "Potentially, the level of protection that people have either through vaccination or from previous infection might be decreased in the face of the Mu variant." 

Despite concerns over the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine against the Mu strain, Darby said the vaccine is still our best line of defense to fight the virus. She says VDH will continue to track this variant through COVID-19 testing and another procedure called a "sequencing test."

"We're just going to continue on with those surveillance efforts to see if it's spreading or if it fades out over time, and that will give us a warning to something we need to pay closer attention to," said Darby.

Darby says the Delta variant remains as the dominant strain in the U.S. at this time.

   

Editor's note: The video below is on file from Aug. 31, 2021.