(WXYZ) — France has identified a new COVID-19 variant that is evading standard testing, making it harder to detect in patients.
There’s a nickname for this new variant, it’s called “le variant breton.” Health officials are saying that it does not appear to be more dangerous. Preliminary research indicates that it’s not more contagious, nor does it cause more severe disease. Having said that, we do need more research in order to confirm this. Now, this new variant was found in the French region of Brittany. Eight patients were carriers and seven of them had typical virus symptoms. But when they were tested, using the highly accurate gold standard PCR tests with nasal swabs, the results were negative. Unfortunately, all eight of the patients died. They were all elderly and had underlying health risks.
Since the variant was able to bypass conventional PCR tests, doctors confirmed the COVID diagnosis in the patients by ordering more tests. Blood samples and tissue from the respiratory tract were analyzed, and that’s how it was confirmed that these 8 patients were in fact, infected with the coronavirus. Now, since there have been new variants popping up in different countries, health authorities are trying to keep tabs on when and where the virus is mutating. Remember the virus’s goal is to survive. So it will continue to evolve and mutate and try to outsmart us. This is why surveillance has increased. And that’s how this new mutation in France was discovered, using genomic sequencing.
Scientists are conducting experiments to see how this new variant responds to our vaccines, and to antibodies from previous virus infections. But there are no answers to share just yet. Now, despite the real possibility that this new variant has evolved to outsmart our PCR tests – and scientists may need to adapt testing protocols - the World Health Organization has not listed it under their category called “Variant of Concern”. Right now the biggest concern for the US is not this new variant found in France, but the one that was first found in Britain. B.1.1.7. is predicted to become the main virus by end of March or early April. I’m getting a bit concerned because Michigan has now had a 77% increase in cases over the last 14 days. Remember, the B.1.1.7. variant is estimated to be between 59% and 74% more transmissible, and 30% more lethal than earlier variants. Plus, uncontrolled spread opens the door to mutations, which can lead to newer, stronger, and potentially more lethal variants. So if you’re heading out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, please stay safe and follow pandemic precautions. We can still turn our numbers around. What we see in three weeks is the consequences of what we do right now.