LA JOLLA, Calif. — The highly contagious variant of COVID-19, first detected in the United Kingdom, is now tearing across the United States. That is the conclusion of a new report led by members of the Scripps Research Institute. Their study finds this rapidly spreading version of coronavirus may become the dominant strain of the illness by the spring.
Dubbed B.1.1.7, researchers say the variant may already be moving through at least 30 states as of January 2021. Although previous studies have determined B.1.1.7 is no more deadly than other strains of COVID-19, its ability to spread exponentially is the major concern. According to the findings of this pre-print study — meaning they have not been peer-reviewed yet — cases of the U.K. strain are doubling roughly every 10 days.
“We found that while the fraction of B.1.1.7 among SGTF samples varied by state, detection of the variant increased at a logistic rate similar to those observed elsewhere, with a doubling rate of a little over a week and an increased transmission rate of 35-45%,” researchers write in their report in MedRxiv.
U.K. COVID variant already reported in 33 states
The origins of B.1.1.7 are still a mystery, but the first cases appeared in the U.K. before the new year. By November, the majority of all new cases of COVID-19 in that country were from the B.1.1.7 strain.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention add that the new variant contains several mutations, including one in the receptor binding domain of its spike protein. This spike has become infamous during the pandemic for attaching to human cells and then cutting into them to reproduce.
According to the CDC’s latest figures, there are at least 690 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 strain in America. Those infections come from 33 different states, including over 200 in Florida.
‘U.S. on similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 became dominant variant’
A report in December, by researchers from Public Health England (PHE), discovered that the new strain does not appear to cause more serious infections than earlier ones. In comparison to the more common varieties of COVID, the death rate from B.1.1.7 remained virtually unchanged in a study of over 2,700 British patients.
Despite those earlier findings, the threat from the virus’s higher transmission rates is worrying scientists. The report warns that the U.S. may soon look like Europe in terms of this COVID variant’s widespread impact.
“Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality,” the researchers conclude.