The highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 first identified in South Africa has now made its way to the United States.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced late Thursday morning, Jan. 28 the detection of two cases associated with the variant that first emerged recently in South Africa, the first such cases in the US.
Neither patient has traveled recently, meaning the variant is likely already spreading in the community following an undetected introduction.
"At this time, there’s no evidence to suggest that the B.1.351 (South African) variant causes more severe illness," the South Carolina Health Department said in a statement.
Viruses are constantly changing, leading to the emergence of variants, including one identified earlier in the United Kingdom that has been identified now in 26 states. A third variant has been identified in Brazil.
The South Africa variant has been identified in more than 30 countries. It's particularly concerning because the current vaccines for COVID have not yet proven effective against it, and 90 percent of new cases in South Africa are the new variant, despite a strict lockdown.
Variants are closely monitored for their ability to spread faster or cause more disease.
“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, South Carolina's Interim Public Health Director. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference.
"These include wearing our masks, staying at least six feet apart from others, avoiding large crowds, washing our hands, getting tested often, and when we can, getting vaccinated. These are the best tools for preventing the spread of the virus, no matter the strain.”
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