New Strains of COVID-19 Revisits Fears

With news of mutated strains of the COVID-19 virus circulating, fears of new infections and increased deaths are on the rise, and concern among health officials is palpable. With the new variants come alarming terms like “super strain” that has already infected 88,630,800 people and caused close to 2 million deaths.


Any uptick in alarm sends a new wave of sticker shock around the globe right at a time when the original strain was reaching a new peak with over 4,000 deaths per day. As such, the news sounds like battling illnesses on more than one front and one front was difficult enough.


The news sounds grim, but the truth is that flu viruses mutate very frequently. Prior flu epidemics and pandemics across history have been met with the same challenge. In modern times, we are better able to react and research teams are already seeking new vaccines to keep up with the COVID-19 variations. Among the triumphs of 2020 was the actual development of the first COVID-19 vaccine, which was produced faster than expected. This does not guarantee a second vaccine will be available even faster, but scientists tend to study their gains and their methods intensively. They learn from gains and failures and the promise of faster and faster vaccine development for the rest of time is a possibility. 


Certainly, nations have already suffered from high death rates, economic chaos, social confusion, and personal loss. Besides physical damage and death, this virus also brings fear, loneliness, grief, isolation.


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At least two new strains have reached the United States, one of which was first detected in Great Britain, while the other first appeared in South Africa. The good news is that these strains do not appear to be more deadly than the original strain. The bad news is that these strains are more contagious and a fractional increase in rates of infection means many more deaths are likely. 


It is a matter of math. An infectious disease math expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine named Adam Kucharski estimates that with a fatality rate of 0.08 percent, a virus that results in 1.1 infections per sick person would likely result in 129 deaths for a month. A virus that is 50 percent more lethal would result in 193 deaths over the same time. But a variant 50 percent more contagious would result in 978 more deaths within a month because the contagious factor grows exponentially. 


Meanwhile, the effects of an overwhelmed health care system are much harder to predict. Decisions of how to react to the new cases would make sizeable changes in death rates as health systems are pushed to the brink. At least one hospital system in the United States has told the EMS staff to ration oxygen to patients requiring ambulatory transport due to the shortage of oxygen tanks.

Supply chain decisions can affect the death rate, as can transportation problems, adverse weather conditions, and other circumstantial factors. Internal medicine doctors San Diego such as Pacific Medical Care are battling the pandemic, directly and indirectly, maintaining their aggressive vigilance towards prophylactic measures. While researchers from universities and pharmaceutical companies rise to meet the challenge, it remains clear that the public must do its part by following guidelines recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention as administered by local governments. These steps haven’t changed; they have just remained necessary imperatives. These steps continue to include:


  • Aggressive tracking of COVID-19 cases to disrupt the spread of the disease
  • Aggressive rollouts of vaccines
  • Frequent hand washing with the appropriate soap or sanitizer
  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet 
  • Wearing a mask to slow the spread
  • Compliance with local government mandates involving lockdowns put in place when necessary


Six states have reported cases of new strains of COVID-19 including Colorado, California, Georgia, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Expect that number to rise. Maintain protocols. Get vaccinated as soon as you are allowed to do so. Follow the rules. Stay safe.


Call San Diego pain management center and internal medicine clinic Pacific Medical Care at 610-333-8114.

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