A lab in Illinois says it has discovered what it believes is a new mutation of COVID-19 that may be linked to the U.K. variant now being reported in the U.S.
According to Reditus Laboratories in Pekin, Illinois, a novel SARS-CoV-2 Spike 69-70 deletion, also known as V70X, was detected in tests run this week on specimens from coronavirus testing in DuPage County.
Reditus CEO Dr. Aaron Rossi said the mutation was detected in two people "who are believed to be the first two confirmed cases of the 69-70 deletion lineage in Illinois." Twelve cases of the mutation were confirmed nationwide earlier this month, the lab reported.
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“What this [detection of the 69-70 deletion] tells us is the virus is consistently mutating at a more rapid pace,” Rossi said in a statement. “The general consensus is the mutations are more contagious than the earlier strain of the virus.”
First identified in the United Kingdom, the variant known as B.1.1.7 has been detected in at least nine people in Illinois since it was discovered in the U.S.
“Early studies have found that this variant spreads more easily than what we have seen with the current prevailing variant,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
Earlier this week, another new variant of the coronavirus emerged in the United States, posing yet another public health challenge in a country already losing more than 3,000 people to COVID-19 every day.
The mutated version of the virus, first identified in South Africa, was found in two cases in South Carolina. Public health officials said it’s almost certain that there are more infections that have not been identified yet.
Viruses constantly mutate, and coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of three that researchers believe may spread more easily: those reported from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
As with other variants recently reported in the U.S., Rossi said there's no evidence to indicate the current coronavirus vaccines won't protect against the latest mutation, though it is still too early to know for certain.
“There is a lot of data we need to gather. Time will tell," Rossi said.
Scientists last week reported preliminary signs that some of the recent mutations may modestly curb the effectiveness of two vaccines, although they stressed that the shots still protect against the disease. There are also signs that some of the new mutations may undermine tests for the virus and reduce the effectiveness of certain treatments.
Still, a new study suggests that Pfizer/BioNtech’s coronavirus vaccine appears to work against new variants that have begun circulating in the U.S. That study has not been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
The coronavirus has already sickened millions and killed roughly 430,000 people in the United States.
Rossi recommended that people get vaccinated, but advised those who do to "continue to take precautions to reduce their risk, including wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent handwashing."
“If you are vaccinated, you are not bulletproof,” he said. “You can still test positive after you receive your vaccination. This is an ever-evolving pandemic and we need to still be cautious, despite having vaccinations. There are still a lot of unknowns out there.”