While many people are increasingly becoming concerned with the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant, there is another emerging variant that is now worrying scientists and public health organizations all over the world. This variant of COVID-19 is known as lambda.
Here’s what you need to know about it:
What is the lambda variant? It’s the latest variant of COVID-19. Early data suggests lambda may be more transmissible than other variants and may also be able to evade vaccines to a degree—though it’s important to note that none of these findings have been peer reviewed yet. In late June, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled lambda a “variant of interest.”
How is a “variant of interest” different from a “variant of concern?” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has muted thousands of times already—but most of these mutations are harmless. A few, however, are not. These few, which are designated “variants of concern”—alpha, beta, gamma, and delta—have been shown to have mutations that make the strains of SARS-CoV-2 in question more dangerous to humans.
Such danger includes increased mortality, increased transmissibility, or the ability to infect vaccinated people. A “variant of interest” on the other hand, is a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 that has been potentially shown to have at least one of the increased dangers that a variant of concern has. Variants of interest could go on to become variants of concern—but they might not.
Where and when was lambda first detected? The lambda variant, also known as C.37, was first detected in Peru in December 2020. But back then, according to the Financial Times, lambda only accounted for 1 out of every 200 cases. Today lambda makes up over 80% of all COVID-19 cases in the country. Peru currently has the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rate, though it’s not yet conclusive if lambda is the reason why.
Is lambda resistant to vaccines? No one knows this for sure, but the WHO and national public health organizations are racing to find out. One pre-print scientific paper by researchers in Chile suggests lambda can better escape the neutralizing antibodies caused by the CoronaVac vaccine, but the paper has not been peer reviewed yet.
What countries is lambda in now? According to data from GISAID, lambda is now in 31 countries, including the U.S., Chile, Peru, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Ecuador, and Israel.
How worried should I be about lambda? As with any strain of SARS-CoV-2 you should be cautious about it. Scientists don’t yet know how big of a problem lambda may become. At the time of this writing, there are other variants to be more concerned about—like delta. But the best way to protect against any variant—delta and lambda included—is to get fully vaccinated and then continue social distancing and wearing masks in crowded places even if such measures are optional and not mandated.
This article was originally published on Fast Company Magazine.