Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the highly contagious infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has had a catastrophic effect on the world’s demographics resulting in more than 2.9 million deaths worldwide, emerging as the most consequential global health crisis since the era of the influenza pandemic of 1918. After the first cases of this predominantly respiratory viral illness were first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in late December 2019, SARS-CoV-2 rapidly disseminated across the world in a short span of time, compelling the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare it as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Since being declared a global pandemic, COVID-19 has ravaged many countries worldwide, overwhelming many healthcare systems. The pandemic has also resulted in the loss of livelihoods due to prolonged shutdowns, which have had a rippling effect on the global economy. Even though substantial progress in clinical research has led to a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and the management of COVID-19, limiting the continuing spread of this virus has become an issue of increasing concern, as SARS-CoV-2 continues to wreak havoc across the world, with many countries enduring a second or third wave of outbreaks of this viral illness attributed mainly due to the emergence of mutant variants of the virus.
Like other RNA viruses, SARS-CoV-2, while adapting to their new human hosts, is prone to genetic evolution with the development of mutations over time, resulting in variants that may have different characteristics than its ancestral strains. Several variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been described during the course of this pandemic, among which only a few are considered variants of concern (VOCs), given their impact on public health. The B.1.1.7 lineage (or VOC 202012) variant was the first VOC described in the United Kingdom (UK) in late December 2020, and subsequently, the B.1.351 lineage (or 501Y.V2) was reported in South Africa. A third VOC, B.1.1.248/B1.1.28/P1 (or 501Y.V3), was reported in Brazil in early January 2021, and more recently, the B.1.427/B.1.429 lineage was identified in California. Despite the unprecedented speed of vaccine development against the prevention of COVID-19 and robust global mass vaccination efforts, the emergence of these new SARS-CoV-2 variants threatens to overturn the significant progress made so far in limiting the transmission of this virus.
This review article aims to comprehensively describe the etiology, epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical features, diagnostic methods, and the latest novel therapeutics in the management of COVID-19. This review also briefly provides an overview of the different variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the efficacy of different available vaccines for prevention against COVID-19 and its variants.
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