Nevada has first confirmed case of South African COVID-19 variant

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada has its first confirmed case of South African B.1.351 COVID-19 variant, according to state health officials.

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine said the case was found in sample collected in Reno and confirmed as the variant on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Mark Pandori, Ph.D. said the lab detected the case as part of its daily strain testing and sequencing program. The B.1.351 strain was traced back to a traveler from South Africa who became symptomatic after arriving in Reno, Nevada.

Dr. Pandori says this strain “may be less susceptible to neutralizing antibody such as those generated by vaccines, but it is not yet known to cause a more severe illness and is not thought to be more lethal than the regular COVID-19 strain.” He added that “there is some evidence that it may be less susceptible to vaccine-mediated immunity, however it does not render the COVID vaccine totally ineffective.”

Pandori said the virus is now copying itself “very often” which leads to variations.

“It happens through a process called ‘mutating’,” says Pandori. “The more a virus spreads in a community, the more opportunities it has to make mistakes when it copies itself. This leads to what we see here and it’s a very natural part of viral evolution.”

The state has been has been analyzing positive COVID-19 virus samples for variants, since mid-December 2020 through whole genome sequencing. The lab is currently working on surveilling most or all positive COVID-19 cases for the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 strains on a daily basis.

“Daily genetic testing will allow us to find cases closer to the time that they arrive, possibly limiting community spread. In this case, the carrier was a traveler from South Africa. So hopefully this is an example of that benefit,” Pandori said. “This is a novel disease. We still have a steep learning curve ahead and lots of work to do, especially as inconvenient truths arise.”

He recommends people follow all safety guidelines and those who travel internationally should quarantine for 10 days at home upon their return and get tested if they have any symptoms.

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