SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Another coronavirus mutation called Mu is now being classified as a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization. While it’s in relatively low transmission around the world, reports suggest Mu has been detected in multiple countries and in the United States.
At Utah’s Public Health Laboratory, scientists continue to genetic sequence some of Utah’s positive COVID-19 cases, and Kelly Oakeson, a chief scientist for next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics said 305 Mu variants have been identified in the last couple of months.
“It’s here, it’s spreading,” he said. “It has some mutations that are of concern, that’s why it’s been classified as a variant of interest.”
Dr. Andrew Pavia, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah Health, said while variants emerge all the time, the question is which will succeed?
Mu is infecting a small percentage of Americans; the White House’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Sept. 2 COVID-19 briefing, the variant is not an immediate threat, but studies are underway to learn more.
Of the Mu variant, Dr. Pavia explains why this variant is being closely watched by health officials.
“It has a number of mutations that when seen in other variants has led to decreased effectiveness of the vaccine or antibodies,” he said.
In Utah, Oakeson said Mu was first discovered in May; just one month after the Delta variant.
“There are only 300 Mu cases in Utah, whereas with Delta we have close to 8,000,” he said. “Delta really is out-competing it. Delta seems to be spreading more easily than Mu.”
With the drastic difference in cases, Oakeson said it shows just how dominant the Delta variant is, compared to Mu.
“Delta is around seven or eight and for Mu, it was around four,” he said.
When it comes to treating COVID-19 patients, Dr. Pavia said treatment is the same for everyone. However, he said one subtle difference is that some variants have led to decreased activity of monoclonal antibodies.
“When states have had a high proportion of some of the variants that are resistant to monoclonal antibodies, they’ve had to shift to others,” he said. “That’s never happened in Utah.”
From his research, Oakeson said Mu doesn’t appear to be targeting specific areas of the state.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s any kind of hotspots for Mu. It looks like it’s just diffused across Utah,” he said.
The best way to get rid of variants, both Oakeson and Dr. Pavia said is to stop the transmission of disease.
“As long as we have high rates of transmission…the virus is going to continue to mutate,” Dr. Pavia said. “It has shown us that it is very good at evolving into variants that are going to cause us more trouble.”
Masks and vaccines are effective against COVID-19, said Dr. Pavia and Oakeson.
“No need to panic, again, get vaccinated, it still looks like there’s some good protection,” Oakeson said.
Outbreak.info collects COVID-19 data at Scripps Research. Their database reports as of Aug. 28, the U.S. has found 2,314 cases of Mu; and worldwide there are 5,278 cases.