Emerging COVID-19 Variants Across Globe Appear More Infectious Than Original Strain

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A total of 50 countries have reported cases of B117, the more transmissible variant of COVID-19 which was first reported in the U.K. The number of countries reporting this emerging strain is up 40 from last week.

This strain is different from a mutated strain found in Europe in summer 2020, dubbed G614, which researchers found was 10 times more contagious than the original strain. The mutated strains, however, do not appear to be more deadly than the original.

Mutated strains of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, feature a mutated S “spike” protein, making it more capable of penetrating and infecting cells. Viruses typically mutate over time, according to Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase in an interview with KRQE News 13 in New Mexico. Dr. Scrase added that he has seen dozens of different strains of the virus since the onset of the pandemic.

The newest variant, B117, first appeared in the U.K. in September. Since its emergence in this region, it has popped up in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Spain, Japan and France.

“We’re doing surveillance testing on positive tests, 200 a week, to do the genomic sequencing to identify new strains,” said Dr. Scrase in an interview. “But we’ve been doing that since the beginning of the pandemic, so we’re just continuing.”

In addition to B117, an emerging and more transmissible variant dubbed 501Y.V2 has been detected in 20 countries. This mutated strain was first found in South Africa. The World Health Organization has also discussed the appearance of two other COVID-19 variants in Brazil, including one strain termed B1128. This variant was first detected in Japan in four people traveling from Brazil. Another similar variant may have evolved in Brazil, and scientists believe this strain may also impact transmissibility as well as host immunity.

Another variant has also been found in the country of Nigeria. As of early January, the country of 196 million people had more than 89,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,302 deaths attributable to the virus. The new variant in Nigeria may also be more infectious than the original strain. This new variant comes at a time when COVID-19 infections have risen dramatically across 47 African countries and has almost reached the same peak it saw in July. Countries accounting for 90% of all new infections in Africa in the past 28 days include Algeria, South Africa, Botswana, Congo, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

Overall, cases of COVID-19 are rising across the globe. Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, recently said in a briefing that cases are rising in almost all countries in North and South America. Countries particularly hard hit include the United States, Canada and Mexico. Currently, said Etienne, it is too early to tell how the holiday season has affected case numbers across these regions.

The PAHO said in an announcement on Tuesday that the organization raised $263 million to combat COVID-19 in the Americas. The funding will go toward technical support and supplies, such as personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.

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