A virus is a submicroscopic parasite that is made up of genetic code: RNA or DNA, surrounded by a protective protein coat known as a capsid.
A virus’ purpose is to create more copies of itself and spread to hosts. However, viruses lack the ability to thrive and reproduce outside of a host body. In other words, “A virus cannot replicate alone. Viruses must infect cells and use components of the host cell to make copies of themselves. Often, they kill the host cell in the process, and cause damage to the host organism,” according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.
When a virus replicates, its genes may undergo copying errors or genetic mutations. This is a natural and normal occurrence and is especially true of viruses that contain RNA such as the coronavirus.
Over time, alterations to the virus’ surface proteins or antigens can occur through mutation. This leads to the formation of new variants of a virus strain.
It has been reported that multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “Information about the characteristics of these variants is rapidly emerging. Scientists are working to learn more about how easily they spread, whether they could cause more severe illness, and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against them.”
The CDC is closely monitoring these variants of concern and advises people to continue to protect themselves from COVID-19 by practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a mask, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
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