It is a version of the coronavirus that was first identified in Colombia in January and has since caused isolated outbreaks in South America, Europe and the United States.
The World Health Organization classified it last month as a “variant of interest” over fears it could make vaccines and treatments less effective, although more evidence is needed.
Scientists are monitoring emerging variants of COVID-19 based on suspicious genetic changes, then looking for evidence to determine whether the new version is more infectious or causes more serious illness. Viruses are constantly evolving and many new variants often disappear.
So far, the mu variant does not appear to be spreading quickly: it accounts for less than 1% of COVID-19 cases worldwide. In Colombia, it can be responsible for around 39% of cases. Most countries remain concerned about the highly contagious delta variant; it is the dominant variant in almost all of the 174 countries where it has been detected.
Authorities have tracked the mu variant to Europe, where it has been observed in a dozen countries. The French Ministry of Health recently said that the mu variant “does not appear to have increased recently” in Europe.
A report from England’s public health agency suggested last month that the mu variant may be as resistant to vaccines as the disturbing beta variant first seen in South Africa, but said more data from the real world were needed.
WHO officials said the mu variant appears to be increasing in some countries in South America, but the delta variant still spreads much more easily.
The mu variant “interests us because of the combination of mutations it has,” said Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO. “But she doesn’t seem to be moving.”
The United States is “paying attention,” but it is not seen as an immediate threat, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost infectious disease expert.
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