Understanding Virus Mutation

Everything you need to know about viral mutations

(RxWiki News) The virus that has caused a global pandemic has mutated. But what does that mean?

Read on for everything you need to know about virus mutations.

What Is a Virus Mutation?

All viruses mutate. Even though the word "mutate" sounds a little scary, not all mutations make viruses stronger.

Virus mutations are simply changes viruses make as they make copies of themselves inside of a host.

Why Do Viruses Mutate?

Sometimes, viruses mutate in response to some change in their typical host or environment. But more often, they mutate as a natural part of the process of making millions of copies of themselves inside of a host. Sometimes, there are tiny differences in the copies. These little differences can add up to a mutation over time.

Because most viral mutations are not driven by a particular purpose, they do not always make viruses more harmful. Often, they can make viruses less harmful to their hosts.

Will Vaccines Still Prevent Viruses That Have Mutated?

Generally, vaccines appear to be effective against mutated viruses. Flu vaccines, for example, tend to use strains of the flu that are years old. While the flu mutates every year, the vaccine remains largely effective.

The changes that virus mutations cause are often so subtle that there's no reason to believe that they would make a vaccine ineffective. However, it is impossible to say this is the case for every possible mutation of every virus.

What Do I Need to Know About COVID-19 Mutations?

COVID-19 has already mutated several times. Various strains are circulating in different parts of the world. At least one of these mutations appears to make the virus more transmissible (although not more dangerous).

Although it is still early, researchers believe that the approved COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the known COVID-19 mutations.

If you have questions about vaccines, speak with your health care provider.

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Review Date: 
January 20, 2021