Latent Mu mutation ‘recipe of disaster’

When Delta raged around the world, the Mu strain appeared, causing many people to worry about the scenario of the virus avoiding immunity and becoming resistant to vaccines.

The WHO and the US said they were closely monitoring the new strain. Mu was first detected in Colombia in January and now accounts for 39% of all infections in the country. At the end of August, the World Health Organization (WHO) once listed the variant “Mu”, or B.1.621, as “concerned”, after there was preliminary evidence that this nCoV strain may be possible. Avoid immunity created by vaccines and antibodies.

All viruses, including nCoV, mutate over time, and most mutations have little or no effect on the nature of the virus, according to experts. However, some mutations can affect the virus’s speed, severity, ability to evade vaccines and other countermeasures.

Dr Vinod RMT Balasubramaniam, molecular virologist and senior lecturer at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Health and Medical Sciences at Monash University, Malaysia, said Mu, the fifth variant of interest monitored by WHO, possesses a series of mutations that make it more resistant to immune evasion.

“Mu has the mutations E484K and K417N, which are related to the ability to avoid antibodies. These two mutations were present in the Beta variant, so Mu will probably act similarly to Beta, reducing the effectiveness of the drug. some vaccines”, Dr. Balasubramaniam shared with VnExpress.

Data on Mu’s immune evasion is currently quite limited. A study from a laboratory in Rome, Italy showed that the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine was reduced more in Mu than in other strains. However, the study still confirmed that this vaccine still has strong protection against Mu mutation.

In addition, Mu also contains other mutations such as P681H, which first appeared in the Alpha strain with the ability to spread quickly, and two mutations R346K, Y144T but their impact on this variant is unknown, according to Balasubramaniam. .

“We really don’t know yet whether mutations in Mu increase infectivity and cause disease. But remarkable reports of Mu have emerged,” he said.

Doctors take care of a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Bogota, Colombia in May. Photo: AFP.

Doctors take care of a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Bogota, Colombia in May. Photo: AFP.

At the end of July, Local 10 television station in Florida, USA reported that 10% of the genetic samples at the University of Miami were mutant Mu. By the beginning of August, Reuters reported that 7 fully vaccinated people in a nursing home in Belgium died from this mutation.

“The proportion of the Mu variant in global nCoV gene sequences is less than 0.1%. But it is increasing continuously in countries like Colombia with 39% and Ecuador with 13%,” he said.

The molecular virologist said that when looking at Mu’s “mutation beam”, this variant contains a “recipe for disaster”, because it shows the risk of vaccine resistance. However, these are only preliminary studies, global scientists are closely monitoring its pathogenicity, virulence and spread, so the picture will only become clearer in the future. next month.

Faced with the threat of new strains of nCoV, Dr. Balasubramaniam emphasized that the key to combating the risk of virus mutations is still global vaccination. “We must vaccinate as quickly as possible, to help protect vulnerable people against new strains. Otherwise our plan to exit the pandemic will be impeded,” he said.

Monash University expert said that until scientists have a more comprehensive picture of Mu mutation, countries must raise vigilance, tighten control, increase testing, especially in the region. borders, as well as closely monitor the development of this new strain.

Immunization is now seen as the solution to help the world return to normal life. Most countries are trying to speed up vaccination so that herd immunity against Covid-19 can be created as soon as possible.

“The virus needs a susceptible host, be it human or animal, to thrive. Vaccines help prevent this,” Balasubramaniam said.

Experts fear that the slow vaccination campaign in many countries due to limited supply could create conditions for the virus to continue to spread strongly and mutate more dangerously. Many scientists believe that Covid-19 will become a seasonal disease like influenza and many countries may have to consider the option of annual booster vaccinations for vulnerable populations.

Dr Balasubramaniam added that with the virus becoming more likely to become a seasonal disease, countries across the globe must consider the option of living with the virus.

“It is difficult for some countries in the world to continue to extend the blockade measure, which has had a serious impact on the economy,” he said. “However, countries cannot fully open up and allow economic sectors to operate 100%, because this can cause disaster.”

Balasubramaniam recommends that governments relax restrictions only on those who are fully vaccinated, but tighten them on those who are not. At the same time, countries should also make efforts to promote vaccination plans, even using legal measures to intervene with anti-vaccination groups.

“Every time a virus proliferates in someone’s body, it has a chance to mutate and appear a new variant. It’s like playing a game of dice,” he stressed. “The more you play, the higher the chance of new mutations appearing. It’s basically like a ticking time bomb.”

Thanh Tam

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