On Tuesday, officials in Colorado announced that a man in his 20s was infected with the novel coronavirus strain, which was first reported in the U.K.
The man is recovering in isolation and has not traveled, but the news sparks fear that the new strain of coronavirus may be more widespread than previously thought.
The Colorado case arose just weeks after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines started to be distributed across the U.S. According to officials, the vaccines likely protect against the new strain.
Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina, told USA Today that the coronavirus vaccine designers predicted the virus would mutate and “included various predictions of viral strains” in the vaccine.
“These changes in the viral composition are expected,” Nolan said. “At the moment we have not seen any dramatic genetic shifts of concern.”
Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, said there is an “extremely low” chance the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will not be effective against the variant.
Here are some fast facts about the new coronavirus strain:
- The novel strain is called SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 or “B.1.1.7.”
- It was first discovered in September in the southeast of England, and may be responsible for the recent spike in cases in the region.
- B.1.1.7 reportedly accounts for 60% of recent infections in London.
- The strain has been identified in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Japan, Lebanon, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
- There are reports that the novel strain is also circulating in China.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the novel strain could be as much as 70% more transmissible.
- The variant is not related to another new strain announced on Dec. 18 in South Africa. This strain emerged independently of that in the U.K.
- It’s not known why the variant emerged first in the U.K. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new viral variants “often emerge or disappear, and that may be the case here.”
- Other theories argue that the virus is emerging because it spreads more easily from human to human.
- According to the CDC, “There is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.”
- SARS-CoV-2 mutates regularly, with about one new mutation in its genome every two weeks. Many of these mutations are “silent,” meaning not expressed in the DNA.
- In November, the CDC launched the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance program to “increase the number and representativeness of viruses undergoing characterization.” Upon full implementation in January, every state will send the CDC at least 10 samples every two weeks for sequencing and characterization.
- The discovery of the new variant led the CDC to issue new rules on Christmas Day for travelers arriving to the U.S. from the U.K., requiring they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.