According to a new study, a more infectious form of coronavirus, first found in Britain, is spreading rapidly in the US, doubling in about 10 days.
Analyzing half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes, a team of researchers predicted that this variant could become a staple in the United States in a month, possibly increasing the risk of new cases and death.
The new research gives the first nationwide look at the history of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, since it arrived in the United States in late 2020. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1. May 7 predominate if it behaves the way it does in Britain. The new study confirms that predicted path.
“There is nothing surprising in this paper, but people need to see it,” said Christian Anderson, co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. We should probably be prepared for this. Major lineages in most places in the United States by March. “
He said that Dr. Andersen’s team estimated transmission rates of B.1.1.7 in the United States and 30 percent to 40 percent higher than the more common variants, although those figures may increase as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already been implicated in growth in other countries including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.
An epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said Nicholas Davis “may actually have a very serious condition that develops over months or weeks.” “These may be early indications for immediate investigation by public health officials.”
Dr. Davis cautioned that US data is more complex than in the UK and other countries that have a national version monitoring system. Nevertheless, he found the results from parts of the United States particularly worrisome. In Florida, where new studies indicate that the variant is spreading particularly rapidly, Drs. Davis fears that a new boom may come sooner than the rest of the country.
“If these data are representative, there may be limited time to work,” he said.
Dr. Anderson and his colleagues posted their study online on Sunday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
B.1.1.7 Coronavirus variants inside
What researchers have learned about the first discovered version in Britain.
When the British government announced the discovery of B.1.1.7 on 20 December, in the United States, Drs. Anderson and other researchers began investigating it in American coronavirus samples. The first case occurred in Colorado on December 29, and Drs. Anderson soon found another in San Diego. In short order it was seen in many other parts of the country.
But it was difficult to determine how widespread the variant was. B.1.1.7 contains a specific set of 23 mutations scattered across a genome that is 30,000 genetic characters long. The best way to detect whether a virus is of the B.1.1.7 lineage is to sequence its entire genome – a process that can only be performed with specialized machines.
The CDC contracted with Helix, a laboratory testing company, to test its COVID-19 samples for signs of B.1.1.7. The variant may provide a negative result on one of the three tests that Helix uses to find the coronovirus. For further analysis, Helix sent these suspicious samples to Illumina to sequence their genome. Last month Helix Drs. Anderson and his colleagues reached out to help analyze the data.
Analyzing 212 American B.1.1.7 genomes, Drs. Anderson’s team concluded that the most likely first arrived in the United States in late November, a month before it was discovered.
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The version was introduced to the country at least eight times, most likely as a result of people traveling from Britain to the United States between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The researchers combined the genome sequencing data with the results of the overall test of Helix to estimate how quickly it spread. It became increasingly more common in the last two months.
In Florida, scientists estimate that more than 4 percent of cases are now caused by B.1.1.7. According to his team’s calculations, the national figure could be 1 percent or 2 percent.
If this is true, then a thousand or more people may be infected with the variant every day. The CDC has reported only 611 B.1.1.7 cases, indicating inadequacy of genomic surveillance of the country.
In some parts of the country where the helix does not do much testing, it is likely to reduce the likelihood of it spreading, Drs. Anderson warned.
“It’s obviously not enough,” he said. “I can guarantee you that there are places where B.1.1.7 may be relatively prevalent by now that we won’t pick up.”
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Nathan Grubo, a virologist at Yale University who was not involved in the new study, says the data make it clear that the occurrence of B1.1.7 is rising as soon as scientists warned. But he does not think the new study shows how it is growing. “It doesn’t really reveal the cause at this point,” he said.
It is possible that the chain of B.1.1.7 transmission is spreading faster than other viruses. Or it may be that B.1.1.7 was more common among newcomers among arriving travelers.
“I still think we are weeks away from actually knowing how it will turn out,” Dr. Grubaw said.
The infectivity of B.1.1.7 threatens to take it seriously. Public health measures that work on other types may not be sufficient to prevent B.1.1.7. More cases in the United States would mean more hospitalizations, potentially stressed hospitals that are recovering from record high numbers of patients only in the last month.
Making matters worse, Drs at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Davis and her colleagues posted a study online on Wednesday, which stated that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than other variants. The study has so far been published in a scientific journal.
Communities can take steps to fight variants such as B.1.1.7, as Drs. Grubbo and his Yale University colleagues have recently described in the journal Cell. For example, he said, health officials should reinforce the message about wearing effective masks, avoiding large gatherings and making indoor locations well ventilated.
Scientists urged governments to require sick leave for people diagnosed with COVID-19 to prevent it from spreading at the workplace. “Such measures can help reduce community transmission,” Dr. Grubo and his co-authors wrote.
Vaccination may also be part of the strategy to fight B.1.1.7. In Israel, where the variant is now predominant, new cases, serious illnesses and hospitalizations have already fallen significantly among people over 65, a group that was given the highest priority for vaccines.
Dr. “What we need to do with current vaccines can be added to as many people as possible,” Andersen said.
Going down B.1.1.7 will also reduce the risk that the variant will develop in an even worse condition. Already in the UK, researchers have found samples of B.1.1.7 that have acquired a new mutation with the potential to make vaccines less effective. It is not clear whether these viruses will become common or not. But they demonstrate that there is too much evolutionary space left in the coronovirus.
“We should hope they harvest here,” Dr. Anderson said. “Whatever was true elsewhere is going to be true here as well, and we need to deal with it.”