Viruses behave in very complex ways. Their unpredictability is the reason why we’ve seen so many different strains and variants of SARS-CoV-2: the virus that is responsible for COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts have been monitoring changes in COVID-19 so they can understand it and find ways to control the spread of the virus.
In this guide, we will be discussing the biggest COVID-19 variants, how they are classified, and why some variants spread faster than others. In addition, we will share information on how these variants affect COVID-19 testing in Memphis, Germantown, and Winston-Salem.
How Do COVID-19 Variants Happen?
When a virus changes, it results in a new variant or strain. These variants occur when there is an alteration (also known as a mutation) in the virus’s genes. According to experts, it is normal for an RNA virus like COVID-19 to change gradually or evolve.
These mutations can help the variant spread more easily or make it more resistant to vaccines and antivirals. Thankfully, by understanding the different COVID-19 variants, we can track the spread of all variants and provide information to protect people from severe illness.
How COVID-19 Variants Are Classified
Using genetic or epidemiological evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have classified COVID-19 variants into four different categories:
Variants Being Monitored (VBM)
These types of variants pose little to no risk to public health because they’re circulating at very low levels.
However, these variants have also developed specific genetic markers that limit the effectiveness of the antibodies that form from a previous infection or the COVID-19 vaccine. These changes may reduce the efficacy of treatments and increase the transmission, or severity, of the disease.
Variants of Concern (VOC)
Variants of concern show evidence of increased transmissibility and virulence. In addition, they have the potential to cause detrimental changes in current COVID-19 epidemiology.
Furthermore, if they begin to spread fast, they can cause a huge change in the current clinical disease presentation of the virus. Lastly, they have the potential to decrease the effectiveness of public health measures such as vaccination efforts, therapeutics, and current diagnostics.
Variants of Interest
A variant of interest is an even more threatening type of SARS-CoV-2 variant that has led to significant community transmission in multiple geographic regions with rising prevalence. The emergence of this type of variant suggests an emerging risk to global public health.
Variants of High Consequence
These types of variants have shown a significant impact on spread and severity. In addition, they reduce the effectiveness of available treatments, testing, and vaccinations.
Understanding the Key COVID-19 Variants
Since the beginning of the pandemic, numerous variants have emerged and are being tracked nationally and globally to help us monitor their spread. The most impactful COVID-19 variants include:
The Omicron Variant and Its Sub-Variants
The Omicron variant was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2021 and was categorized as a Variant of Concern. Within just a few weeks, the Omicron variant quickly became one of the most dominant SARS-CoV-2 variants worldwide. Since then, we’ve seen the emergence of several sub-variants that have emerged from the Omicron variant.
Some of these sub-variants include BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5. According to the CDC, BA.4 appears to be the most contagious COVID-19 variant. Meanwhile, the BA.5 variant was the most dominant strain in the US around the summer of 2022. Despite being described as a variant of concern, however, the Omicron variant seems to cause less cases of severe illness compared to earlier variants.
The Delta Variant
The Delta variant has lineages that are described as “B.1.617.2” lineages and “AY” lineages.
The Delta variant was also once categorized as a variant of concern. However, on April 14, 2022, the SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group (SIG) downgraded the Delta variant from a Variant of Concern to a Variant Being Monitored.
It has since reduced its spread across multiple populations over time. Data suggests that the Delta variant does not currently pose any significant public health risk. Despite being highly contagious, the COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective against it.
The Beta Variant
The Beta variant was first detected in South Africa in August 2020. Currently, it is categorized as a Variant of Concern. The Beta variant appears to be more contagious and easy to spread due to two specific mutations: N501Y and E484K.
Just as with the other versions of COVID-19 variants, the risk for severe infections with this variant is highest for elderly people and people with a compromised immune system or a pre-existing health condition.
The Alpha Variant
The Alpha variant was the first highly publicized COVID-19 variant after its appearance in Great Britain in November 2020. In December of that year, infections surged and then spread further around the world until the Alpha variant became the dominant variant in the US. However, with the rise of the more aggressive Delta variant, the Alpha variant faded away slowly.
The Impact of COVID-19 Variants on COVID-19 Testing
As we’ve seen many times in the past, the COVID-19 virus has the ability to mutate over and over again, which can affect its spread, transmissibility, and the severity of symptoms in affected individuals. Fortunately, COVID-19 tests such as PCR-Tests, Rapid Antigen Tests, Dual Flu and COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests, and the Rapid Antibody Test are designed to detect all known COVID-19 variants.
Schedule an Appointment for COVID-19 Testing in Memphis, Germantown, & Winston-Salem
Catching COVID-19 in its early stages is key to preventing severe illness. That’s why our mission is to help you monitor and protect yourself. We prioritize following the standard protocols for same-day COVID-19 testing in Memphis, Germantown, and Winston-Salem.
If you think you may have COVID-19, or you need to test for a COVID-19 travel requirement, schedule an appointment with us today. We will be happy to receive you.