Health officials: 3 virus variants seen in state

Of the three variants present in the state, the B.1.1.7 or the U.K. variant is the “most prominent” according to the Center for Disease Control and local healthcare professionals.

The CDC’s website graph that details the number of variant cases describes the state to have 839 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant while the South African variant, B.1.351, only has eight cases and the Brazilian variant, P.1, only has three cases.

“We have had some confirmed cases in our geography,” Dr. Stanley Martin, director of Infectious Diseases at Geisinger said. “It is an assumption that we have seen it within the system (Geisinger’s health system).”

Martin and Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director of Infectious Diseases and chair of Infection Prevention and Prevention Control at UPMC in the Susquehanna region, both stated that the special sequencing testing done for the variants is done in a state lab, and not in our hometown hospitals.

“Though there isn’t a confirmed case (in the Williamsport area), we should assume that there is,” Dalal said.

He and Martin added that there still are many uncertainties with the variants at this time. Regardless, Martin said the variants all “contain specific mutations” in the proteins. These mutations have been found to bind to the human respiratory track and cause infection much easier and stronger.

The doctors also said the variants will present themselves like COVID, with similar symptoms. They added that there are minimal differences between the variants and regular COVID-19, but that the variants can be more contagious.

“It will be tough to pinpoint if someone has a variant,” Dalal said.

“The variants have become so dominant and grow exponentially,” Martin said. “It may be multifactorial.”

Dalal added that many adults aged younger than 50 are being seen hospitalized globally. The B.1.1.7 variant has been known to be common in that age group.

He also added that suspicions of a variant would come from those who traveled or have been “adequately vaccinated” meaning two weeks after their second and last vaccine and are still testing positive.

Treatments for COVID and its variants would remain virtually the same. Both even talked about the strength of monoclonal antibodies within the first 10 days of infection.

They both said it has been significant in preventing hospitalization.

Though the vaccines have been known to lose some efficacy, about 15 to 20 percent, both doctors strongly urge to utilize the tools we have been given to help combat the spread of the virus and its variants including, getting the vaccine when it is available, avoiding large gatherings, social distancing, hand hygiene and even layering masks.

“We have to be careful,” Dalal said.

“Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate,” Martin said. “This virus has not gone away. We have got to push through to get this under control.”

For more information please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html.


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