The first confirmed case of the United Kingdom COVID-19 variant strain in Virginia has been identified, according to a press release on Monday from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS).
What is currently known to be the only case in the Commonwealth so far was discovered in a sample from an adult residing in Northern Virginia with no recent travel history reported. The case was confirmed by DCLS using next-generation sequencing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been informed of the matter, the release said.
“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” Dr. Denise Toney, director of DCLS, said in the agency release. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”
The variant, named B.1.1.7, was initially identified in the United Kingdom and the CDC estimates that it first emerged in September.
According to a recently published paper from the U.K.’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, there is a “realistic possibility” that infection with the B.1.1.7 variant is associated with an increased risk of death and disease severity for people compared to non-variant viruses.However, the paper also notes that “absolute risk of death per infection remains low.”
Along with B.1.1.7, two other COVID variants have emerged in recent months. One from South Africa and the other from Brazil, according to the CDC.
“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”
In the United States, 293 cases of the strain have been identified by the CDC as of Monday, not counting Virginia’s sole case, with most occurring in New York, Florida and California. The webpage also says that number does not represent the total B.1.1.7 lineage cases in the U.S.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two companies with emergency-use approval to manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., recently released statements that their products neutralize the B.1.1.7 variant.
Locally, the VDH said it is continuing to work with communities across the state to slow the spread of all COVID strains by supporting testing and vaccination efforts, investigating cases and outbreaks as well as adhering to preventative health measures, according to the release.
And the DCLS said it is connecting with other labs in Virginia to acquire more COVID positive samples to sequence so that state public health officials can get a sense of the variants circulating in the Commonwealth, the release said.
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