On September 3, L.A. Public Health said it found and sequenced 167 cases of the “Mu” COVID-19 variant between June 19 and Augusts 21.
The variant was recently labeled a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization (WHO) as it has shown signs of eluding immunity created by not only vaccines, but past COVID-19 infections, as well.
“The Mu variant is found to have key mutations linked to greater transmissibility and the potential to evade antibodies,” L.A. Public Health said in a press release. “More studies are needed to determine whether Mu variant is more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to vaccine and treatments than other COVID-19 strains.”
The variant, also known as B.1.621, and has been compared to the Beta variant, as “the Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” according to the most recent WHO weekly epidemiological update.
“Preliminary data presented to the Virus Evolution Working Group show a reduction in neutralization capacity of convalescent and vaccine sera similar to that seen for the Beta variant, but this needs to be confirmed by further studies,” the WHO wrote.
Other COVID-19 variants of interest include Lambda, Kappa, Iota and Eta.
When a variant increases its rate of transmission or shows resistance to preventative measures, it may be labeled a “variant of concern” or VOC. Current VOCs include the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma COVID-19 variants, all of which have been detected in the U.S., with the Delta becoming the dominant strain.
Mu was first discovered in Columbia back in January and a total of 4,500 sequenced cases were identified in 39 South American and European countries since then. While the variant’s sequences have decreased overall, they have “consistently” increased in Columbia (39%) and Ecuador (13%), according to the WHO.
The Mu variant’s prevalence is still considered low, but both L.A. Public Health and the WHO will continue to monitor and study its characteristics to determine if it may become more deadly or contagious.