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COVID Variant or Virus Strain, What's the Difference?

Here's a virus 101.
Jan 3, 2021
Photo/s: shutterstock

There's a new variant of the virus that cases COVID-19, first detected in the UK last December and vaccine-maker AstraZeneca said its jab would work against it. That's because it's a variant and not a new strain.

Sometimes interchanged, the words variant and strain have different meanings when used to refer to a virus. The COVID-causing virus, SARS-CoV-2, is a strain of the coronavirus family, Tom Connor, a professor at the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, was quoted on The Independent.

There's a variant of SARS-CoV-2, called VUI 202012/01, that is spreading in the UK and parts of the globe. The variant is more contagious but not exactly more lethal.


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Think of it as a family tree: SARS-CoV-2 is a strain in the family of coronaviruses that also includes MERS and SARS. In the case of the UK, SARS-CoV-2 evolved or mutated into a new variant: VUI 202012/01.

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During a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last Dec. 26, infectious disease experts said virus mutations are expected over time, many are detected but are not always publicized as much as the UK variant.

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