Here's Where the Lambda COVID Variant is Currently Spreading

Health officials are beginning to monitor the spread of the Lambda variant of the coronavirus now that it has become the dominant strain in Peru and continues to circulate in much of South America.

Preliminary data suggest the variant, also known as the C.37 variant, is highly infectious and more resistant to COVID vaccines than the original strain, although researchers note more studies are still needed to better understand the mutation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Lambda variant was first identified in Peru in August 2020. Since then, it has become the dominant sequence there and its presence has begun to expand to other South American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

In the WHO's mid-June report, experts said that the variant has been detected in 29 countries, territories or areas, including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Israel and Zimbabwe, among others.

In the U.S., the variant has been identified in 44 states. However, a spokesperson for the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized to Newsweek that "the proportion is very low, 0.17 percent of all variants are Lambda."

Last month, a Houston hospital reported its first case of the Lambda variant. Since then, more than 1,300 Lambda sequences have been detected in the U.S.

Despite reports of the variant in the U.S., no significant clusters have been reported in one particular state by the CDC at this time.

Lambda Variant Coronavirus Peru South America
First identified in Peru, the Lambda variant has become the dominant strain there and begun sweeping through South America. Health workers inoculate a woman with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, in Arequipa, southern Peru, on July 2, 2021. Diego Ramos/AFP

While the variant appears to have torn through South America, health officials say Lambda is not spreading as rapidly on a global scale as the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 93 percent of circulating coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Newsweek on Thursday that she doesn't anticipate for Lambda to surge in the U.S. because it will be competing against the already dominant Delta variant, which has similar mutations to C.37.

The WHO's COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, also told reporters last week that the Lambda variant doesn't seem to "take off once it's reported in a country."

While the WHO has flagged Lambda as a "variant of interest," the CDC has not. The CDC told Newsweek it is actively continuing to monitor Lambda but has not classified the variant yet, due to its small scope in the U.S. at this time.

However, researchers have expressed worry that identifying Lambda as a "variant of interest" instead of a "variant of concern" could deter people from taking it seriously.

Van Kerkhove said that while the WHO has not upgraded the classification yet, "It doesn't mean [Lambda is] any less important by any means."