A new study has indicated that the more contagious UK Covid-19 variant is spreading at a rapid rate in the US.
According to the study, cases of the UK Covid-19 variant, also known as the B.1.1.7 variant, are increasing at a fast rate in the US and there may already be a significant community transmission currently happening.
Spread of UK variant in the US
Two weeks ago, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said their scientists are coordinating with UK health officials to review data suggesting a new Covid-19 variant could be deadlier.
A CDC official said: “The CDC has reached out to UK officials and is reviewing their new mortality data associated with variant B.1.1.7.”
The Covid variant in UK known as B.1.1.7. was reportedly detected in September 2020. It features a high number of mutations and is considered highly transmissible.
New virus strain in the UK is mutating “at a much slower rate” than seasonal influenza, according to the World Health Organization.
“SARS-CoV-2 is mutating at a much slower rate than influenza,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said. “And so far, even though we’ve seen a number of changes and a number of mutations, none has made a significant impact on either the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutics, drugs, or the vaccines under development and one hopes that that will continue to be the case.”
While only 195 cases of the new variant have been discovered in the US so far, CDC modeling indicates that the UK variant could become the predominant variant in the country by March.
The CDC mentioned that cases of the variant have been detected in 22 states and public health officials believe many more cases are going undetected.
During the same week, President Joe Biden announced travel bans on non-US citizens coming from the UK, South Africa and Brazil due to the new Covid-19 strains.
Aside from the travel bans on the UK, Brazil and South Africa, travel restrictions will also be imposed on Ireland and most countries in Europe. The UK and Brazil travel bans were recently lifted by former President Donald Trump prior to Biden’s inauguration.
Results of the study
The study, published on the preprint server MedRxiv, was conducted by a collaboration of researchers from several institutions and the company Helix, one of the commercial, academic and public health labs that shares information on variants with the CDC.
The researchers wrote in the study’s preprint: “Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.”
The study indicated that aside from groups of cases in California, Florida and Georgia, many B.1.1.7 cases in the US did not report recent international travel, implying that “significant community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant is already ongoing across the US”
The researchers warned that US labs are still sequencing only a small subset of coronavirus samples so there is still uncertainty to what variants are spreading across the country and that without “decisive and immediate public health action,” new, more transmissible variants “will likely have devastating consequences to COVID-19 mortality and morbidity in the US in a few months.”
Last week, Helix President Dr. James Lu said: “The rate of growth here in Florida and Southern California looks a lot like the type of growth that we have seen previously in the UK and Denmark … where B.1.1.7 became the predominant variant strain pretty quickly.”