On Monday, a Texas hospital reported a case of the Lambda variant — a COVID mutation that was first detected in Peru last August. The variant was added to the World Health Organization variant watch list in June after making its way through several South American countries, just as many countries continue to grapple with the growing Delta variant.
So far, there isn't too much known about Lambda, and the Houston Methodist Hospital, whose network includes eight hospitals, confirmed its first Lambda case in the state of Texas on Monday.
"The Lambda is the dominant variant in Peru and Peru has had a very difficult time with COVID-19. It shares mutations in common with the Alpha variants, the Beta, the Gamma, which is the dominant variant in Brazil," Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist, told ABC News. According to Reuters, Peru is seeing a downfall in COVID cases since April, reporting about 1,778 per day; just over 12% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The Lambda variant, also known as C.37, was first detected in Peru where it spread rapidly and makes up the majority of COVID cases, The Washington Post reports. At least 29 countries have reported Lambda cases in recent months, and Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador have seen the most cases in addition to Peru, according to the World Health Organization.
While another mutation of COVID-19 may seem like cause for alarm, medical experts aren't too concerned about the Lambda variant at this time. There have less than 700 recorded cases of this variant in the U.S. since it was first detected several months ago, according to The Post. While that may sound like a large number, experts don't believe this variant to be as transmittable as mutations like Delta.
At present, healthcare professionals remain more alarmed by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is spreading rapidly, particularly among the country's unvaccinated population. The Delta mutation currently makes up 83% of new COVID cases in the U.S., said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Texas, where Houston Methodist reported 185 COVID cases across its network as of Monday, 85% of diagnosed cases were the Delta variant, hospital officials said. The majority of infections were reported in unvaccinated patients.
Given that the United States currently has significant access to vaccines, but is unlikely to reach herd immunity, it comes as no surprise that these mutations continue to pop up. Dr. Walensky warned last week that "this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated." And a New York Times database currently shows nearly 38,000 new daily cases.
However, despite being on the WHO’s variant watchlist, Lambda hasn't been designated as a "variant of concern," which is reserved for mutations that have been shown to spread quickly between people, and are associated with more severe symptoms that are harder to treat. Experts seem confident that Lambda won’t take off the same way the Delta variant has.
"What's going on here in the U.S. is Lambda is competing against the Delta variant. And I think it's losing the competition," Peter Stoilov, an associate professor of biochemistry at West Virginia University who studies the coronavirus variants, told The Washington Post. "The question is how competitive this variant is going to be. I don’t see it spreading anywhere near as fast as the Delta."
For those still feeling concerned about the Lambda variant, rest assured. A paper published earlier this week found that all of the currently available vaccines are highly effective at neutralizing this mutation, making it crucial, once again, to get yourself and your community vaccinated.
"No matter what Greek letter comes along next, the vaccine is really our best defense," Long told The Post.