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Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19

Viruses change, or mutate, over time. This results in new variants or types that are slightly different from the original. Variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been found worldwide. This was expected. Some of these variants seem to spread more easily. These have been called variants of concern. These variants could result in more hospitalizations and deaths because they may spread more quickly.

What are the variants of concern?

There are currently three variants of concern: B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1. All of these variants have been found in the United States, but only the B.1.1.7 variant appears to be widespread. Other variants of concern may be discovered in the future.

What can I do to protect myself and others from the new variants?

The best way to respond is to continue the same COVID-19 prevention steps: avoid crowds, wear a face mask in public, wash your hands often, keep a physical distance, and get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available for you.

Do the vaccines work against these variants?

COVID-19 vaccines seem to protect against COVID-19 caused by the current variants, but more research is needed. Scientists are studying these variants to learn how antibodies made after a vaccine work against the variants. The three authorized vaccines all seem to be effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death in all of the current variants of concern. Vaccinating as many people as possible and as soon as possible is one of the best ways to slow down the development of new variants.

Will I know if I have one of the variants?

It depends on where you are tested for COVID-19. Some hospitals, health department labs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and some other testing locations will do additional tests to look for variants. However, this is a separate test that takes more time, and it is not always done. If you test positive for any form of the virus, you might be notified of a positive test. If further testing is done to look for variants, you might be contacted later. This will depend upon the laboratory and health department.

What should I do if I find out that I have a variant?

If you test positive for any form of the virus, it is very important to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You will be given isolation instructions when you are notified of a positive test. Carefully follow these instructions at all times. If you are in isolation and find out you have a variant, continue taking the same isolation precautions.

Reviewed: March 2021