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3415 53rd Avenue
Bettendorf, Iowa 52722

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106 19th Avenue
Suite 103
Moline, Illinois 61265

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3426 North Port Drive
Suite 200
Muscatine, Iowa 52761

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3904 16th Street
Moline, Illinois 61265

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Proctor First Care - East Peoria

2535 E. Washington St.
East Peoria, Illinois 61611

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1120 E. War Memorial Drive
Peoria Heights, Illinois 61616

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Bett Plex)

5185 Competition Dr.
Bettendorf, Iowa 52722

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Jordan Creek)

180 Jordan Creek Parkway, Suite 120
West Des Moines, Iowa 50266

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Lindale)

153 Collins Road Northeast
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Marshalltown)

55 Central Iowa Drive
Marshalltown, Iowa 50158

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Morton)

1909 North Morton Avenue
Morton, Illinois 61550

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (North Crossing)

2134 Logan Ave.
Suite A
Waterloo, Iowa 50703

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Peck's Landing)

1940 Blairs Ferry Road
Suite 104
Hiawatha, Iowa 52233

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Peoria)

8914 N. Knoxville Avenue
Peoria, Illinois 61604

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5100 Prairie Parkway
Suite 101
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (San Marnan)

1655 E San Marnan Dr.
Suite H
Waterloo, Iowa 50702

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Washington)

209 N. Cummings Lane
Washington, Illinois 61571

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Waukee)

950 E. Hickman Road
Waukee, Iowa 50263

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Waverly)

101 Cedar River Pkwy
Suite 101
Waverly, Iowa 50677

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express at Duck Creek

1417 KImberly Road
Bettendorf, Iowa 52722

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UnityPoint Clinic - Family Medicine and Walk-In Care - Cascade

610 2nd Ave. NE
Cascade, Iowa 52033

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UnityPoint Clinic Kenyon Road - Walk-In

800 Kenyon Road
Suite R
Fort Dodge, Iowa 50501

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - East

1550 University Avenue
Dubuque, Iowa 52001

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2255 JFK Road
Dubuque, Iowa 52002

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2720 8th St. SW
Altoona, Iowa 50009

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1795 Hwy 64 East
Anamosa, Iowa 52205

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3625 N. Ankeny Blvd.
Suite E
Ankeny, Iowa 50023

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Urgent Care - Hiawatha

1001 N. Center Point Road
Suite A
Hiawatha, Iowa 52233

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Urgent Care - Ingersoll

2103 Ingersoll Ave., Ste. 2
Des Moines, Iowa 50312

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6000 University Avenue
Suite 101
West Des Moines, Iowa 50266

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Urgent Care - Marion

2992 7th Ave.
Marion, Iowa 52302

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Urgent Care - Merle Hay

4020 Merle Hay Road
Suite 100
Des Moines, Iowa 50310

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Urgent Care - Southglen

6520 SE 14th St.
Des Moines, Iowa 50320

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Urgent Care - Sunnybrook

5885 Sunnybrook Drive
Sioux City, Iowa 51106

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5200 NW 100th Street
Urbandale, Iowa 50322

Urgent Care - Westside

2375 Edgewood Rd SW
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404

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Why Viruses Mutate, Explained by an Infectious Disease Expert

by -

COVID-19 virus with purple COVID-19 variant

You’ve probably heard a lot about COVID-19 variants. Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Rossana Rosa, UnityPoint Health, identifies three things you should know about virus changes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Do Viruses Evolve So Quickly?

Viruses aren’t living things. They need a host to survive – like the cells in your body. Once a virus enters your body, it reproduces and spreads. The more a virus circulates in a population of people, the more it can change. All viruses change but not always at the same rate. 

“The rate of change varies from virus to virus. Some change very fast, such as the influenza virus. That is why we get a new flu vaccine every year. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has taught us a lot. Current research suggests it changes at a slower rate than influenza. Time is still needed to determine if that means we’ll need more than just an initial dose of the vaccine for COVID-19,” Dr. Rosa says.

Because viruses are always changing, it's very important to stay up-to-date on all vaccines.

What's the Difference Between Mutations, Variants and Strains?

  • Mutation. When a virus replicates, and the end copy has differences (in DNA or RNA), those differences are mutations.
  • Variant. When you accumulate enough mutations, you get a variant.
  • Strain. When you can prove a variant truly has new biologic capabilities then you can call it a strain.

“With COVID-19, the changes to the virus are currently called variants. More research is needed to determine if any of the variants can be called a strain. Variants are often referred to by the physical location of where they were identified. It doesn’t mean that’s always where the variant developed. Right now, there are four main COVID-19 variants on the radar – the UK (B.1.1.7), Californian (CAL.20C), South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants,” Dr. Rosa says.

Why is it Important to Focus on the Impact of the Virus’ Change?

“What matters is the impact the changes have on the virus itself. So, some viruses might have a few differences – a few mutations – but there are no noticeable changes to the virus. Sometimes viruses can have mutations that give the virus an advantage, whether that’s a better attachment to cells or the ability to replicate faster. Mutations can also result in disadvantages for the virus, lowering the ability to attach to cells or taking longer to reproduce,” Dr. Rosa says.

The important things for scientists to identify about changing viruses, like the virus that causes COVID-19, is how the change impacts people, if the vaccines still work and if tests can still identify the active virus.

“For COVID-19, researchers are interested in the UK, Brazil and California variants, because they seem to be associated with either higher transmissibility or potentially higher death rates. Scientist are keeping a close eye on the South African variant because the vaccines seem to be less effective against it. At this point, current PCR testing and rapid testing can detect all COVID-19 variants,” Dr. Rosa says.

What Causes Viruses to Mutate?

Virus changes are associated to three things. First, sometimes a change in a virus is a pure error.

“I heard this really good analogy about virus changes,” Dr. Rosa says. “It's like copying a manuscript and, at some point, you're going to have a typo.”

Another reason a virus might change is because of pressure from select cells in the body.

“This hypothesis emerged regarding some of the COVID-19 variants. It states if a virus infects a person who doesn’t have a very strong immune system, for example, someone with cancer, then the body is not able to clear the virus very well. Then the virus can say, ‘Hey, how are you going to attack me and make changes based on that?’,” Dr. Rosa says.

The creation of a vaccine for any new virus could also cause additional mutations.

“Any virus is going to try to keep changing so it can continue to spread. For COVID-19, that means we’ll likely see more new variants as more people are vaccinated. That’s natural and expected. Don’t be too worried about it, the vaccine should help keep us safe. But, that’s why it’s so important for experts to work together around the world to track the COVID-19 variants. It’s also important for you to continue doing your part by getting vaccinated as soon as you become eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Rosa says.

Finally, no matter what the mutation for COVID-19, you can still help prevent the spread of the disease by wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowds. These efforts will also protect you from other viruses in circulation, too.