Q. Is there a new variant of the COVID-19 virus?
A. A new variant has emerged in the United Kingdom with an unusually large number of mutations. It was first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England.
In South Africa, another variant has emerged independently of the variant detected in the United Kingdom. This variant, originally detected in October, shares some mutations with the variant detected in the United Kingdom.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented globally during this pandemic.
Most variants do not change how the virus behaves and many disappear.
Q. Are these variants circulating in the United States?
A. Since first being identified, the variant emerging from the United Kingdom, has been detected in numerous countries around the world, including the United States and Canada. There have been cases caused by this variant outside of South Africa, but at this time, no cases have been detected in the United States.
Q. Are these variants more contagious?
A. Based on the information we have right now, these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than previous strains and could increase the overall spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Q. Do these variants cause more severe disease?
A. Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death than previous circulating strains. However, a higher rate of transmission could lead to more cases, which would increase the number of people who need clinical care.
Q. Will vaccines be effective against these variants?
A. Scientists do not believe it will have an impact on the effectiveness of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use in the United States. Testing to confirm this belief is pending.
Q. What measures are necessary to prevent the spread of these new variants?
A. The most effective ways to prevent the spread of this virus, no matter the strain, remain the same as have been previously stressed by public health experts. That means wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces, and washing hands frequently are the most effective tools to slow the spread of this virus, no matter the strain.
Q. Are these new variant strains some kind of new supervirus?
A. No. Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear quickly. Other times, new variants emerge and start infecting people. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.