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Information about the Coronavirus Variant

By admin | January 8, 2021

Since there is so much recent news about a new coronavirus strain that seems to be more contagious, which has led to a third shutdown in the United Kingdom, and was recently found in the United States, we want to send you some information about it.  At this time, scientists are just beginning to gather evidence about the transmissibility of this new variant, but as a whole, they fear it is much more transmissible.  Meanwhile, the main message is that we need to continue to be very vigilant and careful as this research evolves, and the same protocols apply: mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and staying from crowded places. 

How much more contagious is the new strain?

The strain first identified in the U.K. spreads more easily and quickly than other strains, according to the CDC. The strain was first spotted in September in southeastern England and accounted for a quarter of cases in London by November. By the week of Dec. 9, it was responsible for 60% of cases in the city.

Scientists have been tracking minor changes in the COVID-19 genetic code since the beginning of the pandemic, and at least 1,000 variants have been detected so far. But the change to the spike protein found in southeast England represents one of the first coronavirus mutations that have made it more infectious.

What makes the new strain more contagious?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, acquires about one new mutation in its genome every two weeks, according to the CDC. The U.K. variant has several mutations that affect the “spike protein” on the virus surface that attaches to human cells.  “It’s able to bind to the receptors on cells better, and therefore is transmitted better,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said last week.  Patients infected with new version of the coronavirus are more likely to have higher viral loads in their noses and throats, which in turn would raise the likelihood that they infect others through breathing, talking, sneezing, and coughing.

There is no certain figure for how much more infectious the variant may be.  Scientists initially estimated that the new variant was 70 percent more transmissible, but a recent modeling study pegged that number at 56 percent.  “The amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission,” said Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

Is the new strain more lethal?

There is no evidence that the variant, known as  B.1.1.7, causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, according to the CDC. However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals. If the new variant means more people are infected more quickly, that would in turn lead to more people needing hospital treatment.

What do we know about the new mutations?

An initial analysis of the new variant has been published and identifies 17 potentially important alterations.  There have been changes to the spike protein – this is the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway to our body’s cells.  One mutation alters the most important part of the spike, known as the “receptor-binding domain”. This is where the spike makes first contact with the surface of our body’s cells. Any changes that make it easier for the virus to get inside are likely to give it an edge.  

Is the vaccine effective for the new variant?

Researchers believe current COVID-19 vaccines will likely protect against B.1.1.7, but data is needed. The virus would “likely need to accumulate multiple mutations in the spike protein to evade immunity induced by vaccines or by natural infection,” according to the CDC. “From what we know from experience with this mutation and other mutations, it’s unlikely to have a large impact on vaccine-induced immunity, or existing immunity from previous strains,” said Dr. Greg Armstrong, director of the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection. Armstrong said it is unclear how the variant may respond to COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibody treatments.

How long has the variant been in the US?

Researches first identified the B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S. in Colorado on Dec. 28 in a COVID-19 patient with no reported travel history, suggesting that the virus was spreading from person to person in the community. It has also been identified in California, Florida and New York.  New York reported its first case on Jan. 4, a man in his 60s—with no history of recent travel–who is associated with a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs, north of Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The person The CDC said it plans to launch a national strain surveillance program this month that requires each state to submit at least 10 samples biweekly for sequencing.

Where else has the new strain been detected?

The strain has been detected in at least 33 countries, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

South Africa has also identified a strain similar to B.1.1.7, but it emerged in October independently of B.1.1.7 and is not related to it, according to the CDC. Like B.1.1.7, the South Africa variant (B.1.351) appears to spread more easily and quickly but is not more severe. U.S. health officials said last week they did not know if the South Africa strain was also circulating in the U.S. “This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the U.K.,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Sources and links:

A more contagious coronavirus strain has been identified in 4 states and 33 countries. What we know.  — USA TODAY

New coronavirus variant: What do we know?   Why is this variant causing concern? — BBC News

Emergence of a Highly Fit SARS-CoV-2 Variant  — New England Journal Of Medicine

How Does the Coronavirus Variant Spread? Here’s What Scientists Know – New York Times

Viral mutations may cause another ‘very, very bad’ COVID-19 wave, scientists warn

–Science

New COVID Strain Detected in New York: What We Know  — New York Magazine

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