UK variant detected in state day after a different variant ID'd in southwest Virginia

FILE - This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. According to two new studies released on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, people who have antibodies from infection with the coronavirus seem less likely to get a second infection for several months and maybe longer. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Three cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, more commonly referred to as the UK variant, have been detected in the north-central area of West Virginia, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).

Forty-two other states have reported 1,523 cases, including all states bordering West Virginia.

The DHHR has collaborated with West Virginia University and Marshall University to conduct whole genome sequencing, which is used to detect this particular variant.

“While the presence of this COVID-19 variant in West Virginia is not surprising, it’s a good motivator for us to double down on the prevention efforts we’ve had in place for many months now,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer and commissioner of the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.

“Now that we have this confirmation, as Governor Justice always says, it’s not time to be fearful, it’s time to be smart,” Amjad said. "All West Virginians should continue hand washing, social distancing, proper mask wearing, testing, and everyone should get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”

Detection of the UK variant comes a day after the first case of the more contagious South Africa Covid-19 variant was found in southwest Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health said the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.351 was identified in a sample from an adult resident of southwest Virginia who recently returned to the region after international travel. The news release said all contacts of the case have been identified and appropriately managed.

Health officials are not releasing information regarding what part of southwest Virginia the case emerged from.

The B.1.351 variant, which first emerged in South Africa in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of Covid-19.

“At this time, there is no evidence that infections with this variant cause more severe disease,” the news release said. “To date, the B.1.351 variant has been identified in nine other U.S. states.”

The news release said the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes Covid-19. In addition to this case of the B.1.351 variant, two other cases of the B.1.351 variant and 12 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant have now been identified in Virginia, the health department statement said.

The health department added it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified in Virginia.

Most people who contract Covid-19 recover, but the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk for more severe complications from the virus.

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