Mizzou researchers detect 5 strains of COVID-19 virus

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – While still dominant across the country, the Delta variant appears to be one of just a handful of strains detected in Missouri this summer.

Most recently, the Mu variant was identified through a Sewershed Surveillance Project by researchers from the University of Missouri.

Those monitoring the virus shed at the State wastewater treatment plants say that they have detected about five cases of the Mu variant.

“I saw it three or four places at the end of June. I saw it once in July and once in August. July and August were not related,” says Marc Johnson, a professor at Mizzou.

Across the country, data shows the variant has already hit its peak. Johnson, as well as Dr. Nancy Yoon, Chief Medical Director with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, says they are seeing a similar trend in Missouri.

“Sometimes these mutations don’t amount to much. Other times it can lead it to be more transmissible and cause more severe disease, and that’s what we saw with the Delta variant,” says Dr. Yoon.

While at least 99% of current covid cases in Missouri are due to the highly contagious Delta variant, Dr. Yoon says more research on the Mu variant is still needed to determine its risks.

“It is the most recent. I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Mizzou Professor Marc Johnson.

Yoon says she thinks the strain does not have the strength it needs to keep spreading.

“At this point, it’s thought that if it were really more severe than Delta it would have caused a lot more surges and would have become the dominant strain, but we’re not seeing that.”

The Mu variant was first identified in Colombia in January 2021 and has since been detected in every state in the U.S. except Nebraska.

Johnson says the strain appears to be more resistant to antibodies, while Dr. Yoon says more clinical data is needed to be sure.

For now, the World Health Organization has classified Mu as a ‘variant of interest,’ rather than a ‘variant of concern,’ such as the Delta.

Johnson says his team will continue to monitor any variants the lab detects, but it is further mutations of the Delta variant that he feels may cause future concern.

“Delta is still mutating, it’s still causing mutations. The CDC is watching this very closely, as am I”, says Johnson. “Every time I see a Delta with a new variant that’s concerning, I put a big footnote, and I watch for it to see if it’s still there the next week. Those are the ones that are most likely because they are already highly contagious.”

Dr. Yoon says so far, vaccines have proven to still be highly effective against all COVID-19 variants that have been identified.

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