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Faster-Spreading COVID-19 Variant Expanding in United States

New study finds B.1.1.7 variant is 40 to 50 percent more transmissible than versions of the virus that were previously dominant

Coronavirus Blood test laboratory analysis

FRIDAY, April 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The faster-spreading COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom is on its way to becoming the dominant form of the virus in the United States.

A new study showed that the B.1.1.7 variant is being detected in an increasing proportion of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) samples and is 40 to 50 percent more transmissible than versions of the virus that were previously dominant. Together with previous research showing that the B.1.1.7 variant may be about 50 percent more deadly, the new findings suggest that the United States could have more COVID-19 cases and deaths than previously expected, according to the authors of the study, published online March 31 in Cell.

There is no evidence yet that the B.1.1.7 variant is resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, but public health officials fear its higher rate of spread will significantly worsen the pandemic before it can be halted by vaccines. The B.1.1.7 variant emerged in Southern England last year and has since become the dominant variant there. The first evidence of the variant in the United States was confirmed in California in December.

The researchers found that the B.1.1.7 variant has been introduced to the United States multiple times since at least late November 2020, especially in California and during periods when there was increased travel, including Thanksgiving week.

"B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.K. and other countries after its emergence late last year, and the U.S. is now on a similar trajectory," study co-senior author Kristian Andersen, Ph.D., director of Infectious Disease Genomics at the Scripps Research Translational Research Institute in La Jolla, California, said in a Scripps news release. "We need immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality."

Scripps Research Press Release

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