By AFRO Staff

New cases of COVID-19 continue to surge across the United States. As Americans adapt to the pandemic, the virus is adapting too.

Two new variants of the virus have emerged, named Delta and Lambda. The CDC reported Delta as the dominant virus variant in new infections and new hospitalizations. The Lambda Variant has been reported to be found in California, South Carolina, Texas, Florida and Louisiana. The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to Lambda as a “variant of interest.” 

GISAID, the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data, counts 872 Lambda cases in the United States as of Aug. 17  and there have been 16 new U.S. cases in the last four weeks.

Delta, however, is aggressively overtaking the United States. GISAID counted 182,380 cases total as of Aug. 25. 

“We continue to see variants appear in different parts of the world, as long as we are not able to decrease the spread of the virus, and it continues to replicate and spread around, this is going to continue happening,” Dr. Diego Hijano, a St. Jude’s clinician, told the AFRO. “We should make every effort to stop the virus from replicating and changing because some of these changes are not only making the virus more infectious, but they are also making the virus resistant to therapies.”

Every time a virus reproduces, there is a small chance for change. Viruses reproduce by breaking into host cells, taking over their command and life-sustaining structures, organelles, and converting the cell into a factory for making copies of the original virus. As the cell produces new copies of the virus, it breaks down and dies. As the cell disintegrates, viruses escape the confines of the dying cell, attach to and penetrate new cells, and the process perpetuates, if not interrupted.

The virus reproduction process, like any other factory process, can cause defects or errors in the manufacture of what would otherwise be an exact copy. The accumulation of these defects, or point mutations, accumulate over time and can change the nature or quality of the new generation of virus.

This is how Delta and Lambda develop, why they are unique yet still a form of the coronavirus.

Delta changed into something so infectious and dangerous that it deserves to be distinguished from COVID Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

“There are mutations that are in common with the Alpha Variant, Delta Variant, Beta Variant and Delta Variant. They just have a different combination.” Dr. Richard Webby, a virologist and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, told the AFRO. “The fact that these variants are sort of sampling all the same mutations, suggests that the amount that this virus can change is not necessarily endless. For the flu, the amount of mutations, the places where it can mutate are almost endless and ongoing.”

These changes and struggles remain in the confines of the human body, where the virus must be fought. Variants are inevitable if the virus is given a chance to grow and adapt in an unvaccinated body.

“That’s why we are telling people all the time to get vaccinated; to do the right thing; to wear their mask; to keep their physical distance,” Dr. Hijano said. “The only way to avoid this is to stop the virus spreading. First, if you haven’t received the vaccine, get the vaccine. If you have the vaccine and you have family members who have not, make sure to take them and get them vaccinated.”

Fighting COVID Alpha, Beta and Gamma is fighting Delta and Lambda or any number of theoretical successor variants, if the virus continues to spread.

“The chance that happens, it’s just a numbers game, the more people infected, the more chances are you’re going to generate variants,” Dr. Webby said. “Particularly in people who may not have as potent an immune response. The more that we can stop the virus ‘zigzagging,’ there’s less chance for these variants to emerge. Are we trying to stop these variants emerging, or are we trying to stop this virus ‘zigzagging’ within this population? Those are essentially the same things. Because one leads to the other.”

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