What Genomics Sequencing Tells us about the Mu Variant and COVID-19
September 27, 2021
The continued emergence and spread of characteristic SARS-CoV-2 variants reinforces the critical role that genomic sequencing plays in the enhanced surveillance of COVID-19.
The Mu variant, which was first detected in Colombia in January of this year, is now making its way across the globe. The variant has been implicated in more than 2,000 cases in the United States, according to the COVID-19 tracking site, Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID). While the Mu variant has sparked considerable attention, a closer look at the data shows there is more to the story.
Despite its ability to dominate the headlines this month, in reviewing data from the CDC in more detail, along with genomic surveillance information, the Mu variant is actually not more prevalent than other variants and is seemingly less transmissible than the Delta variant, which still shows more prominence among positive cases.
Here’s what our Clear Labs research tells us:
- On August 7, of the 7-day average of 100K+ positive cases of COVID-19 in the US, about 400 were the Mu variant*.
- Approximately two months prior (during the week of June 12), data shows that number remains the same — with an estimate of 400 Mu cases per day, while 7-day average of case numbers were approximately 15,000, much less than August*.
Thus, we can conclude that not only the absolute number of cases of Mu variant have not grown significantly between early June and August, quite the contrary the percentage of the positive cases that were identified as Mu has come down. Conversely, Delta cases nearly quadrupled within a similar two-month timeframe, so that remains the dominant variant despite the increased attention for Mu.
In order to keep up with an ever-evolving virus, we need to employ rapid and reliable genomic surveillance tools that are equal to the task. The data generated by these systems are invaluable for identifying and tracking the spread of emerging variants and for understanding the functional and epidemiological consequences of variant-specific mutations.
Next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based surveillance systems, such as the fully automated, end-to-end platform available from Clear Labs, empower public health organizations, reference labs, hospitals, and epidemiologists to gain critical insights into how to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks in individual communities, as well as add to the collective understanding of SARS-CoV-2 across the country and in the world at large.
NGS helped first identify SARS-CoV-2 as the pathogen responsible for COVID-19. And whole genome sequencing (WGS) of the viral isolate provided the precise genome sequence that led to the development of nucleic acid diagnostic tests and an mRNA vaccine. As the pandemic has progressed, WGS has become the go-to method for variant tracking.
The Clear Dx™ Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) platform made available by Clear Labs delivers high quality SARS-CoV-2 genomes in less than 24-hours. The platform is a powerful tool for identifying and tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants and for understanding how variant-specific mutations might contribute to increased transmission and other pathological features of the virus.
As new variants emerge, sequencing can provide an early warning system, enhanced real-time genomic surveillance of pathogens of interest as well as in-depth variant tracking capabilities that public health communities need. This is why Clear Labs remains committed to helping the world get more #clearoncovid.
*: All Mu case number calculations assume variant genomic surveillance information is representative of the variant distribution across the nation.