COVID-19 – Everything About Mutations, Vaccines, and Prevention

Posted by Machine Sense on

RNA viruses are known for exploiting all genetic variation mechanisms for ensuring their survival. Short replication times, high yields, and high mutation rates are some of the distinct replication features of the RNA viruses. Environmental factors, as well as the Nucleotide sequence on that particular template molecule, affect the mutation rates.

Viral quasispecies are the dynamic and complex mutant swarms formed after RNA virus replications. Their evolution is dependent on the infection-causing virus's population size. The mutation rates of the RNA viruses are a million times higher than that of their respective hosts. Enhanced evolvability and virulence are responsible for these high mutation rates because these traits are beneficial for these viruses.

The world is in a pandemic state because of the COVID-19 virus, which is nothing but an RNA virus. The entire world went under lockdown because of the immense threat it posed to humans. The virus originated in China. After jumping out from the bodies of the bats, these viruses discovered a new host, i.e., humans. The fact that we do not have any proper immune defense against it, makes us the prime targets.

Recent studies have shown that the present strain of COVID-19 is different than that emerged in China. It has undergone slight changes and became more contagious to people. People infected with the earlier strain didn't seem to have high viral loads in their throat or nose. But people infected with this new strain are having a heavy viral load in their throat and nose.

Although this strain is probably not making them any sicker than the earlier one, it is more contagious, and so more people are getting affected in a shorter time. 

The new strain has also shown changes in its spike proteins. Spike proteins are the outer shell regions of the virus that enable them to dock on the host cells and infect them. The changes in the spike proteins increased the predatory efficiency of this virus. As a result, this new strain of the virus can move from one cell to another much quicker than the previous one. The vaccines have already been developed, and people are already getting vaccinated around the world. 

But it doesn't solve the problem entirely. The main concern now is whether or not these vaccines will be effective in the long run. Scientists are carrying out researches to find out whether the vaccines used to treat people infected with the original strain would be effective in treating people infected with the new strain.

For studying this, scientists extracted antibodies from people who survived COVID-19 on both the new and old strains. Then these antibodies' efficiency in neutralizing the virus was tested. No significant difference was observed. This ensures that people who survived the old strain have some protection for fighting the new strain too.

Although this new strain is supposed to cause no impact on the current vaccine and preventive measures, it raises several questions. It showed how fast these strains can evolve, so there are chances that we will get to see more evolved strains in the coming months. 

The coronavirus is a very stable virus because it has a special molecule that serves as a proofreader, ensuring the correct copying of the virus. This proofreader is the reason behind this increased copying pace of this new strain of COVID-19. This new strain is causing concern mainly because of three reasons:

  • All the other versions of this virus are getting replaced rapidly by this new one.
  • This new strain has shown an increase in infectious abilities.
  • The mutations have affected an essential part of the virus (the spike proteins).

Mutations and the Vaccines 

The most important concern of scientists and doctors over the world is "Will the existing vaccines be effective to treat the newer strains?". The answer to this question is circumstantial. For now, the answer is "yes", but nobody knows what will happen in the future.

Now, what do vaccines do? Vaccines train your immune system and prepare it to attack the virus's different parts. So, even if certain parts have mutated (in this case: spikes), the vaccines are still going to work. But, if the virus starts mutating more and more, that is a bit of a concern. We do not yet know to what extent it can mutate and what surreal changes it can bring to its features. The virus is mutating so that it can survive the vaccine doses. It will be able to escape the vaccine once it can dodge the entire effect of the vaccine.

Once this happens, the existing vaccines will become useless, and the virus will continue to infect people, and we do not know how dangerous it can be. The latest variant is proof that the virus already took the first step towards vaccine escape. This same thing happens in the case of flu. Flu vaccines need to be updated regularly, because it keeps mutating, making the older vaccines useless. 

Prevention and Self-monitoring

The important thing is, even more, new strains are going to come in the future. Because of this, the vaccines can't promise to fully eliminate the COVID-19 infections, but they can surely be effective in reducing them. It makes us realize that it is high time that we take proper preventive measures and stay under strict monitoring. Preventive measures include washing your hands regularly, frequent use of sanitizers and soaps, consuming healthy foods, regular use of masks, maintaining social distance, and self-monitoring. 

Now, how can you monitor yourself? The answer is simple; temperature check. 

The very basic symptom of COVID-19 affected patients is an increase in their body temperature. So, if your body temperature is normal, then there is nothing to worry about, but if you see an abnormal increase in body temperature you should get instant medical attention. For checking body temperature, various thermal scanners are used. Thermal scanners are used in public places like airports, office entrances, shopping malls, etc., to ensure the lesser spreading of the virus in public places. Most of the thermal scanners out there are forehead scanners, but it is recommended to use FeverWarn, because of various reasons explained next.

Why FeverWarn is your best bet?

FeverWarn is a thermal scanning device that gives you fast and accurate results. You need to place your forearm, wrist, or your fist under the scanner. Make sure to place it one to four inches away. It just needs a few seconds to display the results. You will get a flashing red or a flashing green screen with your temperature displayed on it. The features that make it unique are:

  • It is a self-service device and doesn't even require any physical contact.
  • It ensures legal protection by offering data compliance storage.
  • It provides outputs that trigger auxiliary gates or doors.
  • It provides accurate results.
  • You get it at a reasonable price.

The other thermal scanners out there usually sense temperature from your forehead. The first is named as a viable option for checking temperature by the National Institute of Health. When your body temperature is high, it spreads to your skin via blood circulation. Because of the high arterial flow, the skin of your hand responds steadily and easily to the changes in your body temperature. Therefore, the skin surface of your hands is considered to give accurate results. 

When you make a tight fist, you can see the arteries on your hand that leads to your fingers. These arteries are placed very close to the skin, thereby making it an ideal choice for self-scanning thermal devices. There are various reasons as to why the wrists are a better choice than the foreheads when it comes to checking temperatures. They are:

  • Your wrists usually do not perspire, which makes the results more accurate. On the other hand, your forehead tends to perspire more and it tampers with the results.
  • Wrists have lesser hairs compared to your forehead. Forehead hairs often tamper with the results.
  • People generally wear makeup on their faces. So, when the thermal scanning is done on the forehead, the heavy face and eye makeup can directly affect the results. On the other hand, wrists are generally bare, with no makeup on. 
  • Interference is caused because of face coverings and hats, which is not the case when it is done on the wrists.
  • It is a self-service device, so you do not need to expose yourself to another individual.

Now, let us tell you the most important thing about using this device. Most infrared sensors fail to show accurate results during chilly weather. This is because your forehead is an uncovered area and the outside weather has a direct impact on the skin surface of your forehead, thereby affecting the thermal scanning results. But when you are scanning from your wrist, you simply pull up the sleeve of your sweater and scan it. Because it is not an area to stay uncovered, it shows accurate results, irrespective of the surrounding environment.