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What is the more contagious South African variant of COVID-19? Is it more dangerous?

Variant detected in Jackson County

Michigan health officials are tracking a confirmed case of the more contagious South African variant of COVID-19.
Michigan health officials are tracking a confirmed case of the more contagious South African variant of COVID-19.

DETROIT – Michigan health officials are tracking a confirmed case of the more contagious South African variant of COVID-19.

The variant was detected in a boy from Jackson County. Contact tracers are following his close contacts and working to determine if there are any additional cases linked to his.

READ: Everything we know about virus variants in Michigan, US

What is the South African variant?

The B117 variant of the coronavirus appears to be at least 50 percent more transmissible. That means if it spreads in the U.S. then it will produce more infections.

It was first reported in the U.S. on Jan. 28 when it was identified in two people in South Carolina.

The reason it is more easily spread is that several of the mutations in the variant allow the spike protein to bind more tightly, making it a more effective invader.

One particular mutation in the B117 variant, known as the N501Y, has already been found in other variants across the world. It seems to be a primary driver of the increased transmissibility.

There is no indication that it’s inherently more dangerous. But because it spreads easier, it could cause a surge of infections which would lead to a surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

READ: Michigan confirms first case of South African COVID variant in Jackson County

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About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.