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What do viruses like COVID-19 do? They mutate

Health care professionals perform testing at ProHEALTH Urgent

Health care professionals perform testing at ProHEALTH Urgent Care of Jericho at its drive thru rapid testing for COVID-19 on Dec. 3 in Jericho. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mutations and variants are evolutionary trial and error, fundamental to viruses. The oldest known ones date back an estimated 310 million years ago, when the ancient symbiotic bracoviruses infected wasps.

"Dogs bark, ducks quack, viruses mutate," said Dr. Jay Varma, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for the coronavirus pandemic. "That's what viruses do."

"The more infections that occur in humans, the more likely it is the virus will mutate," Varma said, outlining why it's important to minimize how many people are infected.

The most common ancestor of coronaviruses — there are seven coronaviruses that can infect people — existed about 10,000 years ago, according to a 2013 article published in the Journal of Virology.

Some viruses pretty much go away, but others continue to spread indefinitely.

In the case of the coronavirus, Varma said, it’s possible COVID-19 could become a disease akin to influenza and the seasonal flu, for which an annual shot is updated based on mutations, that society must contend with indefinitely.

Why do viruses mutate?

What are some of the notable variants?

How dangerous are variants?

Could this mean a third shot — a booster — for those who have already gotten the current ones?

So is it better to wait?

Have any variants been detected on Long Island?

Does the coronavirus vaccine protect you from variants?

Do we need to take additional measures to protect ourselves from the variants?

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