Everything You Need to Know About the New COVID-19 Variant

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A new strain of coronavirus is quickly spreading throughout the United Kingdom and possibly numerous other countries. It was first detected in September and already accounted for about two-thirds of COVID-19 cases in England by December. 

The introduction of a new and rapidly spreading coronavirus strain has led many to speculate its impact on the pandemic. It has also given rise to more questions and anxieties, so here’s everything that is known about the new COVID-19 variant so far. 

What makes this variant different from others? 

Scientists have found this variant to contain several mutations. While the mutation of a virus in itself is not novel, this variant has accumulated mutations much faster than expected. 

To illustrate, SARS-CoV-2 acquired one or two mutations per month. However, the new strain called B.1.1.7 already has 17 different mutations in its genetic code. 

Of those 17 mutations, 8 have been found to occur in a part of the virus called the spike protein. This is the part of the virus that penetrates host cells and binds to them in the initial stages of infection. 

What do the new mutations mean? 

Each mutation that occurs in B.1.1.7 holds a different implication and several of them have already been studied by scientists. 

One mutation identified as N501Y alters the “receptor-binding domain”, binding the virus even tighter to human cells. While D614G, another mutation, makes the virus more transmissible. An H69/V70 deletion in the virus’ genetic code makes it easier for B.1.1.7 to evade the body’s immune system.

The existence of these mutations shows that the B.1.1.7 variant developed as the virus adapted to humans. It has essentially made it easier for the virus to infect people. 

Is the new variant more transmissible than other versions of COVID-19? 

Studies predict that B.1.1.7 may be up to 70% more transmissible than previous versions of the virus. This is backed up by the fact that B.1.1.7 was able to push out most other forms of the virus in the U.K. in just three months. 

However, these figures and assumptions have been calculated based on the observance of COVID-19 cases. The new variant must still be tested and examined in a laboratory as the variant’s transmissibility may also have been affected by human behavior. 

How far has the new variant spread? 

So far, B.1.1.7 has been detected by researchers across the United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland, Denmark, Australia, and the Netherlands.  

Is the variant more severe? 

There has been no evidence suggesting B.1.1.7 results in a worse or more deadly infection. 

Biochemist Jeremy Luban at the University of Massachusetts Medical School explains: "There is absolutely no evidence that this [variant of the] virus is more deadly. There's nothing at all to suggest that, and I don't think anyone that I know is worried about that possibility."

Will the COVID-19 vaccines still be effective against the new variant? 

Again, there is no hard proof to say whether the vaccine’s efficacy will be affected one way or another. However, scientists are optimistic that the vaccines will almost certainly work on the new variant. 

Vaccines work in such a way that trains the immune system to attack various parts of the virus. This means that although the spike of the virus has mutated, it should still be effective in neutralizing other components of the virus. 

How will the new variant affect the pandemic? 

It is unclear exactly to what extent the new variant will change the course of the pandemic as the rate of transmissibility has not yet been determined. For now, health experts suggest the dangers of the new variant can be curbed by continuing to follow health and safety guidelines. 

Wearing masks, socially distancing, and avoiding big gatherings should be enough to stall the spread of the new variant. Businesses and employers have their own part to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19 when it comes to handling medical waste disposal. 

Medical Waste Disposal 

Medical waste is defined as any waste containing infectious or potentially infectious material. 

The Florida Administrative Code includes waste such as non-liquid tissue, body parts, blood, blood products, and body fluids from humans and other primates; laboratory and veterinary wastes that contain human disease-causing agents; and discarded sharps in this definition. Also included are: 

  • Non-absorbent, disposable devices that have been contaminated with blood, body fluids or, secretions or excretions visibly contaminated with blood that has not been treated. 
  • Used, absorbent materials saturated with blood, blood products, body fluids, or excretions or secretions contaminated with visible blood; and absorbent materials saturated with blood or blood products that have dried.

Medical waste disposal in Naples, Florida adheres to a specific set of rules and regulations. 

Policies on medical waste disposal depend on the classification of waste. Medical waste generated by a household may be disposed of following these guidelines

  • Soiled bandages, disposable sheets, medical gloves, and other contaminated non-sharp materials should be put into a black or brown plastic bag.
  • Securely tie or tape up the top of the bag. Place the bag in the center of your garbage when throwing it out. 

Medical waste generated by organizations, companies, and the like must adhere to the standards outlined by Florida’s Department of Health. As these policies are quite specific, it is necessary for any waste generator to go over Florida’s administrative code

Sharps Disposal 

Sharps are medical waste that has sharp or jagged points, like needles or syringes. 

Several Florida counties have implemented sharps disposal programs for home-generated sharps. These programs provide designated drop-off sites for sharps container disposal. The United States Post Office also provides a mail-back sharps disposal service. 

Should these programs be inaccessible, sharps may be disposed of in the household trash following these guidelines: 

  • Place needles, syringes with needles, lancets, and other sharp objects into a hard-plastic or metal container with a screw-on top or any tightly fitting lid. 
  • Do not fill the container to the top. Put on the top or lid and tape it on with heavy-duty tape.
  • Put the container in the center of your trash when you throw it out. 
  • Do not put needles and other sharp objects in any container you plan to recycle. Do not use clear plastic or glass containers. Do not throw loose or unprotected needles into your garbage.

However, check with your local garbage company and local landfill to ensure adherence with county regulations on sharps disposal. 

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