Health authorities in Colorado have confirmed that the new coronavirus strain has already reached the US. The new strain, believed to be more contagious, originated in the UK.
The Colorado State Laboratory said the new variant called B.1.1.7 was detected from a man in his twenties who has no travel history and no close contacts. The patient is currently in isolation in Elbert County, located southeast of the Denver metro area.
“Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”
Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK.— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) December 29, 2020
The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely. pic.twitter.com/fjyq7QhzBi
Public health officials in Colorado are still conducting investigation on the case.
The Colorado lab identified the variant through analysis of testing samples, initially spotting a tell-tale sign of the variant in a PCR test. Scientists then sequenced the viral genome and found eight mutations specific to the spike protein gene associated with this variant, according to the governor’s office.
The new coronavirus strain was first discovered in the UK in September. Preliminary analysis of the mutated strain suggests it is behind Britain’s recent spike in cases as it said to be 70 percent more transmissible. By the second week of December, it was responsible for 60 percent of the cases in London.
The US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this month that the new strain could already be circulating in the US without notice. The CDC cited ongoing travel between the UK and the US as an explanation for the potential arrival of the new variant.
The discovery of the new strain has prompted several countries to reimpose travel ban to and from the UK.
Japan and South Korea have already recorded cases of the new variant in the past days. The two nations have now implemented border closures and strict movement restrictions within their territories.
Cases were also detected in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Canada, Australia and many other nations.
South Africa, meanwhile, has identified a different strain, which has similarities with the one discovered in the UK. As a result, many nations have also restricted entry of any visitor arriving from South Africa.
Here are some important facts you need to know about this new coronavirus variant, which is now known as B.1.1.7:
- The UK variant is not a new supervirus. It’s just one variation among many that have arisen as the coronavirus has spread around the world. Mutations arise as the virus replicates.
- The new coronavirus strain is 40 to 70 percent more transmissible in the UK.
- NERVTAG said there’s a hint that it also has a higher propensity to infect children, unlike previous dominant strains.
- There is no strong evidence that it causes more severe disease, at least not yet. But another lineage of the virus in South Africa with the same mutation found in B.1.1.7 was seen to carry a heightened viral load – a higher concentration of the virus in their upper respiratory tract. In many viral diseases, this is associated with more severe symptoms.
- The new variant is not expected to have any great impact on the vaccines currently used in the UK, US and other countries. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines create immunity to the coronavirus by teaching the immune system to make antibodies to a protein that sits on the surface of the virus, called spike. The spike protein latches onto cells and opens a passageway inside. Antibodies produced in response to the vaccines stick to the tip of the spike, which prevents the virus to get inside.
The World Health Organization has urged calm and said there is no major alarm yet on this new variant. It added that this is a normal part of the pandemic’s evolution.