By Mary Hearty

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it is tracking four variants of concern that have emerged as a result of the changing nature of the original virus causing COVID-19.

According to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO infectious disease epidemiologist, the four variants include the B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, the B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa, the P.1 variant which was first identified in Japan from travelers from Brazil, and the B.1.617, which was first identified in India.

“Variants of concern have demonstrated changes. For example, variants may have increased transmissibility, there may be a change in disease presentation or severity, or there may be a change in our ability to control the virus with public health and social measures, or the use of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” she said in a virtual interview hosted by Science in 5 hosted.

“The recent variant of concern, the B.1.617, which has demonstrated increased transmissibility and this is why this has been classified as a variant of concern.”

Dr. Van Kerkhove noted the importance of carrying out surveillance globally, adding that quick detection of the variants and sharing information to be analyzed helps understand the potential implications once they are identified.

Besides, she called for the need to do everything to prevent infections and reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, whether it is a variant or not.

“So, it means taking all of the measures that you can to reduce your exposure in the possibility of you getting infected. This is by physical distancing, avoiding crowded spaces when you are outdoors. If you are indoors, make sure that there’s good ventilation. Ensuring you have clean hands and wear a mask properly over your nose and your mouth, practicing respiratory etiquette and being well informed,” Dr. Van Kerkhove explained.

While encouraging members of the public to get vaccinated, she revealed that many studies are underway examining the properties of each of these variants of concern in terms of transmissibility, severity and impact on diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

“So far from the information that we have from the studies that are underway and the available results, the public health and social measures, the diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines do work against these virus variants. We are learning every day and as soon as we have more information, we will share this with you,” Dr. Van Kerkhove stated.