Covid terminology:What’s mutations, variants and strains?
The genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is called ribonucleic acid (RNA). To replicate, and therefore establish infection, SARS-CoV-2 RNA must hijack a host cell and use the cell’s machinery to duplicate itself.
During the process of duplicating the viral RNA, errors frequently occur. This results in viruses that are clones of the original virus that are identical but not same. These defects in the viral RNA are termed mutations, and varieties are called viruses with these mutations. A single or multiple mutations could vary in the variants.
A variant, as it exhibits distinct physical properties, is referred to as a strain. Put clearly, a strain is a version of its parent virus that is constructed differently, and therefore behaves differently. This variations in behaviour may be subtle or noticeable.
There is considerable misunderstanding as to how these words are best used. It makes sense that the word variant is more general, since both strains are variants. But as science shows that these variations behave differently, naming them strains will be more appropriate.