(Photo : Pexels/ Ketut Subiyanto) COVID-19 new strain B117

The United Kingdom will be on another lockdown as a new variant of the coronavirus has been traced and it transmits more readily between people.

The new variant is called B117 and it is a mutant form that have been present in the UK since September 2020, although it only came to light towards the end of September. Epidemiologists and virologists immediately studied the new variant so there are things that the public already knows about it.

COVID-19 mutation B117

The two studies conducted by researchers at Imperial College in London and a collaboration research between the European Bioinformatics Institute and Wellcome Sanger Institute have given some insight about the new strain and revealed how it spreads, gave information about its consistency and its implications.

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How much more contagious is the new strain?

B117 may have originated as far back as the late summer. It is a fast-spreading variant and has been traced in South Africa, Japan, Italy, Netherlands and the United States. It is not clear if the variant originated in the UK but that was where the variant was first detected.

According to the CDC by the week of December 9, 2020, it was already responsible for 60% of COVID-19 cases in London alone. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, acquires about one new mutation in its genome every 14 days.

The UK variant has several mutations that affect the spike protein on the virus surface that attaches to the human cells. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the United States, said that the virus is able to bind to the receptors on cells better, which means it is transmitted better.

Many people are now asking, is the new strain more lethal since it spreads faster? As of now, there is no evidence that B117 causes more severe illness or it increases the risk of death.

Is the vaccine effective against B117?

Dr. Greg Armstrong, the director of the CDC's Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, said that from the information that they have gathered, the mutation is unlikely to have a massive impact on immunity that already received the vaccine or immunity that are already existing from previous strains. He also said that it is not clear how the variant may respond to COVID-19 treatments.

The researchers believe that current COVID-19 vaccines released by Moderna and Pfizer will protect against B117 but more data is needed. The virus would need to accumulate multiple mutations in the spike protein to evade immunity induced by vaccines or natural infection.

So how long has the variant been in the United States? According to USA Today, the researchers first identified the B117 variant in Colorado on December 28, 2020 in a COVID-19 patients with no travel history.

This suggested that the virus was spreading from person to person in the community and it is not clear how widespread the variant has become.

The CDC announced that it plans to launch a national strain surveillance program this year and it will require each state to submit 10 samples ever two weeks for sequencing.

B117 has been spotted in several states such as Colorado, California, Florida and New York. The experts stated that more states will be included in the list in the coming weeks.

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Written by Sieeka Khan

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