DETROIT – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported Michigan’s first case of the more easily spread U.K. coronavirus variant.
The variant is known as B.1.1.7. and was identified in a Washtenaw County woman who had recently traveled to the U.K. That’s where the variant originated. She may have acquired it there, but the big picture is that the variant has already been identified in multiple people across the United States and it’s a reasonable bet that it is circulating here.
The B.1.1.7 variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has quickly become dominant in the U.K. That’s because it appears to be at least 50 percent more transmissible. That means as it spreads here in the U.S. it will produce more infections. The reason it’s more easily spread is that several of the mutations in the variant allow the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to human cells, to bind more tightly. That makes it a more effective invader.
You should understand that variants are made of several individual mutations. A change to just one of the 30,000 individual pieces of the RNA, or genetic code. One particular mutation in the B.1.1.7. variant -- known as N501Y has already been found in other variants across the world and seems to be a primary driver of the increased transmissibility.
Although the B.1.1.7. variant does spread more easily. There’s no indication that it’s inherently more dangerous. The danger comes from the fact that as it spreads, it could cause a surge of infections. Which will lead to a surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologists have already estimated that it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. But they are hopeful that the ongoing vaccination efforts might offset its growth. There is no evidence that the B.1.1.7. variant would be resistant to the vaccine’s protection.
No one should be overly concerned about this variant. The value of knowing that there are more contagious variants out there really just highlights the importance of not letting up on basic precautions.