Variant of COVID-19 Virus Detected in Three Alabamians

Back view of Scientist testing Vaccine Coronavirus in Biosafety Cabinet. Source: UAB.

The novel coronavirus that has pushed the world into a pandemic has mutated into additional strains, and one of those strains that is more contagious has now reached Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that a strain called B.1.1.7, which originated in the United Kingdom and is described as “new and more highly transmissible,” has infected a resident of Jefferson County plus two in Montgomery County. One patient is an adult and the other two are under age 19.

The variant was first found in the U.K. late last year and made its way over to the United States shortly thereafter. So far, B.1.1.7 has been detected in 24 other states, including Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. The ADPH said health officials had been expecting to find the variant in Alabama.

The new variant is easier to catch from another person than the original, but so far in the United States, it has not been found to be more deadly or to cause additional or stronger symptoms.

The vaccines being given across the nation are believed to be effective against the strain. Health authorities continue to study the variant to make sure vaccines work against it and case outcomes do not become worse.

Authorities in the U.K., though, say the new variant — now the most common found in patients suffering with COVID-19 there — may be more deadly. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Jan. 22 that B.1.1.7 could be as much as 30% more fatal. But Johnson’s chief scientific adviser said, “There’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers, and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this (variant) has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report on the new strain, which was updated Jan. 22 and said in part, “The increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking. Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public.”

The ADPH continues to advise everyone to wear face masks, to maintain social distance and to wash hands frequently.