While the delta variant has commanded national attention for weeks, another COVID variant has started quietly swirling through the United States: the mu variant. At this point in time, the mu variant has been detected in 42 countries and 49 states, and health officials are presently keeping an eye on the strain in case it becomes more dominant.
The mu strain was initially identified in Colombia in January, and it has recently been added to the “variants of interest” list held of the World Health Organization (WHO). The only state that has yet to report an incident of the mu variant is Nebraska, per estimates created by Outbreak.info. In addition, Hawaii and Alaska are estimated to have a higher prevalence of the variant, though the mu variant has been detected in under 1 percent of samples thus far.
News regarding the mu variant surfaces as the total number of COVID cases in the United States have surpassed 40 million since the onset of the pandemic, per data from John Hopkins University. Over 4 million infections have been reported in the past few weeks, and the nation has reported a total of at least 649,134 deaths related to the virus.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who serves as the United States’ primary infectious diseases expert, has observed that the mu variant illustrates mutations that could indicate potentially “[evading] the protection from certain antibodies.”
However, Fauci also added that the mu variant does not comprise “an immediate threat.”
With at least 384 cases, California has the highest number of samples that have the mu variant, though this number still constitutes 0.2 percent of the state’s sequenced samples. Between June and August, Los Angeles County health officials noted 167 mu variant cases, with the majority occurring in July.
Per a statement from LA County Public Health, the mu variant appears to “have key mutations linked to greater transmissibility and the potential to evade antibodies,” though more studies will be necessary to determine the degree of contagion the virus has, as well as the degree of resistance, if any, the mu variant has to vaccines.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who serves as the Director of LA County Public Health, also added that the mu variant emphasizes the importance of taking protective measures, such as becoming vaccinated while “layering protections,” as these types of actions “can break the chain of transmission and limits COVID-19 proliferation that allows for the virus to mutate into something that could be more dangerous.”