The delta coronavirus variant is still responsible for most COVID-19 cases in the U.S., but the lambda variant is now also causing concern. First identified in Peru, the lambda variant was just detected at a Houston hospital.
Houston Methodist Hospital network, which includes a large system of hospitals and care centers in Texas, confirmed its first case of COVID-19 attributed to the lambda variant this week, ABC News reports. The hospital system had more than 100 COVID-19 patients over the last week, the majority of whom were not vaccinated, ABC says.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not list lambda on its variant tracker right now, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently dubbed lambda a “variant of interest.” It was first identified in Peru where it accounted for more than 80% of COVID-19 cases since April 2021, according to a mid-June WHO report. Lambda was also identified in other South American countries, including Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina. The case in Houston is one of about 730 lambda cases recorded in the U.S. so far, according to data from GISAID, which tracks variants globally.
As a variant of interest, lambda does contain several genetic mutations that affect the coronavirus spike protein, which could make this strain more transmissible than the original version. “However, there is currently limited evidence on the full extent of the impact associated with these genomic changes, and further robust studies into the phenotypic impacts are needed to better understand the impact on countermeasures and to control the spread,” the WHO report says. “Further studies are also required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines.”
On the other hand, we know that delta is the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S. right now, accounting for over 80% of COVID-19 cases in the country, Reuters reports. Delta is thought to be highly transmissible and responsible for much of the recent increase in cases across the U.S., but our current COVID-19 vaccines still provide significant protection from the virus and its variants.
The most effective way to protect yourself and those around you from coronavirus variants—including delta and lambda—is to get fully vaccinated. For extra protection, you can continue to follow the safety protocols we’ve become accustomed to during the pandemic, such as wearing a mask in public, washing your hands frequently, and staying physically distant from people outside your household. Not only will these behaviors help protect you from the current coronavirus variants, but they will also make it much harder for the virus to replicate and create even more concerning strains in the future.