New strain of COVID-19

Infectious Disease physician answers your questions about the new coronavirus strain.

At the end of 2020, a new strain of the coronavirus was discovered, creating renewed concern about what this new strain might mean. Jonathan Arcobello, MD, an infectious diseases physician at Loma Linda University Health, is one of many physicians working to answer the community’s questions about the strain.

“People are wondering if the mutated coronavirus is more contagious, if the vaccines will still work against this variant, and what people should be doing to make sure they’re keeping themselves safe,” he says.

Here’s what Arcobello says you should know:

Viruses change — or mutate — all the time.

Some viruses change more drastically or rapidly than others, says Arcobello. “It’s not a surprise that this virus has undergone a change,” he says. The virus has already changed multiple times since discovered in 2019. “What’s important to know is that the precautions have stayed the same — wash your hands, wear a mask, and stay away from others when you’re feeling sick,” Arcobello says.

Initial analysis shows the new variant to be more infectious, but not more deadly.

The new strain spreads more easily and quickly than other strains, according to the CDC. The more contagious variant is likely due to protein spikes on the cells, which attach to human cells in the nose more easily, Arcobello says.

“Despite the mutated virus being more infectious, we haven’t yet seen evidence suggesting it’s more dangerous or could cause a more severe reaction,” he says. The virus hasn’t become stronger or deadlier, but it has adapted to become more easily transferrable.

The vaccine covers multiple mutations.

Mutations change the genome of the virus, but Arcobello says the vaccine should still work on the new strain. “Researchers and scientists alike will continue to monitor the mutations to make sure testing and vaccines are effective,” he says.

If you or someone you love is interested in learning more about COVID-19, visit our coronavirus information webpage. If you or someone you love is interested in learning more about the COVID-19 vaccine, check out this article on your biggest COVID-19 vaccine questions, or you can visit our COVID-19 vaccines webpage.