As DNA is replicated, small mistakes within the bases can occur and cause mutations. Most of these mutations are fixed by different mechanisms within cells, but when those mistakes are not caught it can cause viral diseases like COVID-19 to change and develop variants. In most cases variants are almost identical to the original virus and cause the same symptoms, but as a disease like COVID-19 infects more people and duplicates itself more, these small mutations can build up overtime and cause new variants to be more resistant to vaccines, multiply faster, or a host of other problematic changes. Because of geographic isolation, mutations of certain strands of the virus are unique to different countries or continents and can have different symptoms or severity. Although the danger of the COVID-19 virus changing is a real one, other RNA viruses are prone to mutating frequently and therefore the CDC has been tracking variants since COVID-19 was identified as a RNA virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) are hard at work tracking and studying these variants to learn how best to tackle them while also trying to stop their spread so they don’t mutate further and become more dangerous.

Determining which variants garner the most concern is important to help slow the spread of more dangerous variants, and the CDC helps keep on top of this by classifying different variants as Variants Of Interest (VOI) and Variants Of Concern (VOC). Variants Of Interest have the possibility to acquire traits that make them more transmissible, or cause worse symptoms. Variants Of Concern, such as the Omicron and Delta variants, have been observed having these dangerous traits and therefore are more closely monitored.

One way the CDC is monitoring these Variants Of Concern is through tracking positive COVID-19 tests across the U.S. using COVID-19 test results to know where people are testing positive and trying to monitor the spread of the virus. When you get tested for COVID-19, the results only show if you have the virus or a variant, not which one you have, but if you live in Oregon it’s likely the Delta Variant.

With all these different variants around, the CDC is strongly recommending that people who haven’t received vaccinations or boosters do so as soon as they can. Worldwide, the people experiencing the most severe symptoms are those who are not vaccinated and are the most likely to both be infected by and transmit the virus to others. Vaccines also are effective against all variants in Oregon, so you are more protected against any variants you may come into contact with. Some other precautions you can take are washing your hands frequently, especially before touching your face or food, wearing a mask when necessary, and staying home if you develop symptoms.

Knowing the symptoms can be a huge help when you are trying to reduce the risk of infecting others, so it’s recommended that if you are experiencing symptoms you stay isolated. Symptoms often occur within 2-14 days after exposure, and range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms are fever or chills, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, and diarrhea. These are not all of the possible symptoms, as it can depend on the variant contracted, the severity of symptoms, and any underlying conditions. Older adults with underlying conditions like heart disease or lung disease are the most at risk for developing life-threatening symptoms, and should take as many precautions as possible to avoid developing those symptoms.