(WSYM) — A new variant of COVID-19 called B.1.1.7. discovered in the U.K. has now been confirmed in Michigan.
Washtenaw County identified the state’s first case of the new strain of COVID-19 in a woman who had recently returned from overseas. Two close contacts also have COVID-19 but the new variant has not been confirmed. County health officials say all close contacts are isolating and quarantining.
While the symptoms and severity of the illness do not appear to be any different, many experts say this variant is more contagious.
“This doesn’t change what we need to do. But preventing transmission at every opportunity is now even more important because this variant appears to be more contagious and may impact more people faster than the current strain,” says Juan Luis Marquez, MD, MPH, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department.
So what makes it different?
Henry Ford Health System’s Dr. Nicholas Yared, an infectious disease physician, explains how the virus works.
“So it has this spike protein. This protein that’s on the outer membrane and it’s the protein that it uses to lock onto one of the receptors and to get into one of our cells,” Dr. Yared explains.
“What this new variant, the B117 variant, has that is different than some of the other COVID-19 viruses, it fits better. It has a mutation of that spike protein and you can think of it as fitting like a better key. It’s easier for it to get into our cells and that allows it to penetrate the cells and to spread faster than other COVID-19 variants,” the doctor adds.
While it does seem to spread faster, “it does not cause worse disease than any of the other variants that are out there,” Dr. Yared said.
The new variant is responsive to the vaccines and detectable with the same tests
“While you will test positive with the new variant it’s not going to identify that variant. So that is additional testing that needs to be done,” says Susan Ringler Cerniglia, MPH with the Washtenaw County Health Department.
She says it is important to stay diligent and prevent transmission whenever possible. Use or increase use of effective prevention strategies.
- Wear a face mask around others
- Keep at least 6 feet apart from others
- Clean hands frequently
- Avoid crowded areas or gatherings
- Ventilate indoor spaces if around others
- Get vaccinated when vaccine becomes available to you
- Get tested if ill or returning from travel