U.K. variant of COVID-19 discovered in Kansas, health officials say
A faster-spreading variant of the COVID-19 virus has been discovered in Ellis County, state health officials said Wednesday evening.
The strain of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, originated in the United Kingdom but has since spread to 33 states in the U.S.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said a case investigation was underway to determine how the person, a Kansas resident, had become exposed to the virus, as well as if others had been exposed.
It has long been expected that this variant, or one of a number of other strains that have cropped up in recent weeks, had been in Kansas. The B.1.1.7 variant initially arrived in Colorado late last year.
Lee Norman, secretary of health and environment, said in a press release that residents should continue to social distance, wear masks and observe other protocols to curb the virus' spread.
“This finding does not change our public health recommendations," Norman said.
The variant was identified via genomic sequencing, or identifying the DNA makeup of the virus. Norman said earlier this week that KDHE's lab had doubled its sequencing efforts in light of the growing number of COVID-19 variants and also is able to partner with a lab at Kansas State University to expand capacity.
State officials briefly believed that a faster spreading strain of the virus was responsible for an outbreak at Winfield Correctional Facility, with Norman telling reporters last week that the case counts in the facility had increased at an unusually rapid clip.
KDHE said Friday that a faster-spreading variant was not found in the facility.
Initial data from the U.K. finds that the virus is somewhat more lethal than the normal COVID-19 strain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, although the KDHE release noted more research is needed to verify this.
Both Moderna and Pfizer have said their vaccines appear to work against the U.K. variant. The Moderna vaccine also appears to be work against another variation initially discovered in South Africa, although Pfizer said their shots are less effective against that strain.
Neither the South Africa variant, nor one which originated in Brazil, have been found in Kansas, although other states have reported cases of those strains.