First case of South African coronavirus variant found in Mass.

Massachusetts identified its first case of the coronavirus variant originating in South Africa, the Department of Public Health announced Tuesday night.

Variant B.1.351 of the virus was detected in a 20-year-old woman who lives in Middlesex County and who reported no travel, officials said.

“Variant B.1.351 is known to spread easily,” said the statement. “The Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory is working collaboratively with many academic and healthcare partners to quickly identify the worrying variants by sequencing a subset of positive samples.”

Officials said the presence of the variant was confirmed through genetic sequencing by the Broad Institute on behalf of DPH.

The variant was originally identified in South Africa in October and arrived in the United States in January, according to the CDC.

Officials reported that there are 34 cases of the UK variant (B.1.1.7) in Massachusetts and no cases of the P.1 variant originally found in Brazil.

“These variants appear to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which could lead to more cases of COVID-19,” according to information on the CDC website. “An increase in the number of cases will put more pressure on health resources, lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more deaths.”

State health officials have asked residents to continue wearing masks and practice social detachment to slow the spread of the virus.

“The best defense against a rapid increase in cases of worrying variants is to prevent the spread of COVID,” the statement said.

Nick Stoico can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.