DOVER — The Delaware Division of Public Health said the state has detected 18 cases of the newest COVID-19 variant, the mu variant.
DPH added it is carefully tracking the mu variant, technically known as B.1.621. The variant is not currently on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list for variant of interest or concern.
The World Health Organization considers the mu variant a variant of interest at this time. It is listed it as a variant of interest “because of concerns it may make vaccines and treatments less effective, though more evidence is needed.”
Four other variants, alpha, beta, gamma and delta are considered variants of concern by WHO.
The mu variant was officially designated as a variant by WHO on Aug. 30. The earliest documentation samples of the variant were found in Colombia in January of this year.
All 50 states have identified at least one confirmed case of the mu variant, with Nebraska becoming the final state on Monday. However the variant accounts for less than 1% of the country’s COVID-19 cases.
So far, the mu variant doesn’t seem to be spreading quickly worldwide either. It accounts for fewer than 1% of COVID-19 cases globally. In Colombia, it may be responsible for about 39% of cases. Most countries remain concerned about the highly contagious delta variant; it is the dominant variant in almost all of the 174 countries where it’s been detected.
The mu variant “is of interest to us because of the combination of mutations it has,” said WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove. “But it doesn’t seem to be circulating.”
The U.S. is “paying attention to it,” but it isn’t considered an immediate threat, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.
Delaware’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has been attributed by public health officials to the delta variant which remains the current most prevalent variant in the state.
DPH’s lab identified 148 variant positive samples last week at its lab and one outside lab, 93% of which were the delta variant.
As of last week, the state identified 554 confirmed cases of the delta variant through random sequencing of test samples. The actual number is likely higher since not all positive tests are sequenced for variants.
DPH’s lab has sequenced 4,275 specimens for COVID-19 variant strains as of Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story