Your Covid-19 questions answered

Why do we have so many variants of Covid-19?

And how do we know which one is concerning?

Covid-19 has mutated into multiple different variants. The beta variant is dominant in SA.
Covid-19 has mutated into multiple different variants. The beta variant is dominant in SA.
Image: 123rf/flyalone

Johannesburg-based general practitioner Dr Hillary Mukudu says Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, relies on mutation to stay alive in the human body for as long as possible.

The mutation of a virus influences its properties, including how quickly it spreads among humans. Mukudu says this is normal.

Aphiwe, not her real name, is hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccine. She told TimesLIVE that while she is not an anti-vaxxer, she fears the vaccine might prove ineffective against the dominant beta variant.

She also questioned the legitimacy of reports concerning the mutation of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. 

“Since when does a virus change and come back stronger? Flu is a virus, but has it come back in the past years with a heavier variant than it was a year before? We have never had a stronger flu variant,” she said. 

Mukudu said, however, it is not uncommon for viruses to mutate. 

“The virus has to survive and the way it survives is to change its make-up into different variants. Unfortunately, the variants that people hear about are only the variants that become concerning. For example, if a variant infects more people, or if it's more transmissible, or killing more people than before. 

“There are many types of variants of the virus, we don't talk about them because even they change. It doesn't change anything in terms of how we fight the virus. The virus changes many times, but it's only when it affects the treatment that we talk about it,” said Mukudu. 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has not yet declared the newly detected variant, C.1.2, as a variant of concern or a variant of interest, meaning the new strain is not yet a threat.

There are four variants of concern: beta, delta, alpha and gamma. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has been monitoring the mutation of Sars-CoV-2 since January 2020.

“The emergence of different variants have prompted the characterisation of specific Variants of Interest (VOIs) and Variants of Concern (VOCs), to prioritise global monitoring and research, and to inform the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the organisation.