This site is intended for healthcare professionals only

Variations on a deadly theme: How COVID-19 is changing

Written by: | Published:

New variations of COVID-19 New variations of COVID-19 have added a fresh layer of complication to managing this deadly pandemic

Within months of the first reports of pneumonia caused by a previously unknown virus emerging from Wuhan, town centres across the UK became eerily deserted, millions faced delayed and cancelled NHS treatment and the national debt reached levels not seen since the Second World War. Researchers developed vaccines in a remarkably short time. Yet, as soon as SARS-CoV-2 emerged, virologists feared the pathogen would mutate into something worse. Now variants of concern (VOC) from Britain, South Africa and Brazil raise the prospect that SARS CoV-2 would escape the protection offered by vaccines and possibly evolve into a more infectious and deadly strain. This article looks at the biology behind the headlines.

Coronaviruses have the largest RNA genome of, so far as we know, any virus.1 SARS-CoV-2 carries its genetic code as a single strand of RNA containing about 30,000 nucleotides (adenine, cytosine, guanine or uracil).1,2 This encodes 29 proteins, including the now infamous spike: a chain of about 1260 amino acids. As we will see, the length of the spike depends on the variant.1,3-5 The length of the spike on the outside of the virus contains about 672 amino acids. The remainder of the chain spans the viral membrane.4 The other proteins, for example, allow the virus to build copies, help SARS-CoV-2 avoid our immune defences, and encase and protect the viral RNA.3

Please login or register to read the rest of the article and to have access to downloads and comments.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

This material is protected by MA Healthcare Ltd copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Read a free issue from Practice Nursing

Register to read a free issue from our sister publication, Practice Nursing.

Including articles on asthma, diabetes and more. Read your copy.


Sign up to the newsletter


Independent Nurse is the professional resource for primary care and community nurses, providing clinical articles for practice nurses and prescribers.


Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with the latest nursing news.

Stay Connected

Stay social with Independent Nurse by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn.


Need access to some of our older articles? You can view our archive, or alternatively contact us.

Contact Us

MA Healthcare Ltd.
St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road
London, SE24 0PB

Tel: +44 (0)20 7738 5454
Registered in England and Wales No. 01878373

Meet the team


Find out how to contribute to Independent Nurse here.