Two new reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that new variants of the coronavirus may lead to a rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 cases.
In a report released on Wednesday, researchers from the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health detailed the cases of variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom. Previous modeling data suggested that this variant, which may be more transmissible, could become the predominant variant in the United States in March, and the CDC urged people to take steps to reduce the spread.
The CDC Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report described cases B.1.1.7 identified in specimens collected from eight Minnesota residents, aged 15 to 41, from mid-December to mid-January. Five reported symptoms similar to those of Covid-19 and three were asymptomatic.
Three of the people had a history of international travel in the two weeks before they fell ill, including two who traveled to West Africa and one who traveled to the Dominican Republic, and three others traveled to California, including one who tested positive while she was in California and isolated before returning to Minnesota. None of them had a history of travel to the UK.
The identification of these variants in Minnesota “highlights the importance of mitigation measures, such as the use of a mask, physical distance, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, isolation of people with diagnosed COVID-19, quarantine of close contacts with people with COVID- 19, and adherence to CDC travel guidelines, ”states the report.
On Tuesday, the CDC reported at least 1,299 cases of coronavirus strains first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil were reported in the United States. The vast majority of these cases – 1,277 – are variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the United Kingdom. This variant was found in 41 states and in Washington, DC. Approximately one third is in Florida. Nineteen of these 1,299 are variant B.1.351 first identified in South Africa.
These numbers do not represent the total number of these cases circulating in the United States, but only those found by analyzing positive samples.
In a separate report released by the CDC on Wednesday, Zambian researchers described how the detection of variant B.1.351 first identified in South Africa coincided with a rapid increase in cases in Zambia – and this variant may have become the dominant strain there.
Variant B.1.351 may be circulating elsewhere in southern Africa, where many countries are reporting rapid increases in the number of Covid-19 cases in December and January, the report said.
“The spread of variant B.1.351 is a public health concern because of the potential for increased transmissibility and, therefore, increased cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” wrote the researchers.