MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Experts fear a new, more contagious version of COVID-19 could cause a jump in cases this spring. It first popped up in the U.K. and has already made its way to Minnesota.
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“I’m concerned, not because it’s deadlier than the wild-type strain or any other strain that have been found,” said Dr. Omobosola Akinsete, the chair of the infectious disease department of HealthPartners. “If it’s more transmissible, that means more people will likely get infected, if more people get infected, then more people will get ill, more people will have severe disease and more people will die.”
Right now, experts have identified several variants of SARS-CoV-2 – one from South Africa, two from Brazil and another from the United Kingdom. Epidemiologists in California are investigating a strain there too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.K. strain has been found in 20 states in the United States.
On Jan. 9, the Minnesota Department of Health announced it had found five cases of the mutation in Minnesota.
“What we’re seeing in Minnesota reflects what’s happening across the country, so there’s nothing unique here,” said Sara Vetter, MDH laboratory manager.
Vetter said her team is sequencing 90 positive samples a week looking for any variants. They’d like to increase that to 150 a week to match traditional flu surveillance efforts. It takes four to five days to sequence a positive sample.
“With the variant emerging, We’ve been looking a little harder and increasing the amount we sequence,” Vetter said.READ MORE: 'She's Lucky To Be Alive': Fernando Juarez Charged With Assaulting Girlfriend's Toddler
At this point, experts believe the U.K. variant still makes up less than 1% of cases in the U.S. But, because it’s more contagious, experts believe it’ll spread more quickly to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.
“It’s 1% now, it’ll be 2% then 4%, then 8%, then 16% then 32%, so in about five weeks it will start to take over,” former FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb told CBS’ Face the Nation.
These strains can bind more tightly and quickly the human cells. Dr. Akinsete says that doesn’t mean the guidance for fighting COVID should change, but people should be even more vigilant social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing.
“It means we need to do what we’re doing now, but we need to do it better,” she said.
She also points out that’s why it’s so important to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Viruses are constantly mutating and the more time a virus is given without herd immunity, the higher likelihood it will have to become more deadly or not responsive to vaccines.
“All of this is hypothetical, but we know it’s happened in the past, it has happened with other viruses,” she said.
With current research, experts believe the available vaccines will protect against the U.K. variant. But, there is some new research that found the vaccine might be slightly less effective against the mutations.MORE NEWS: 2 Suspects Dead, Deputy And Officer Shot In Wadena County Shootout
“At this point, we have a concern that the vaccine may be challenged, meaning they may have reduced capability of preventing disease,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of President Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board, told CBS Evening News.
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