Local researchers have confirmed our region's first case of a coronavirus variant that is believed to spread more quickly and was first identified in the United Kingdom.
The virus variant, B.1.1.7, was found in a southeast Pennsylvania resident - who officials say lives in Philadelphia and Bucks County. The patient, a woman in her 50s, had symptoms of the coronavirus infection in December and was briefly hospitalized.
Her sample was then sent to Dr. Frederic Bushman's lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where genetic sequencing work determined the woman's viral sample matched the U.K. strain.
Viruses, which are made up of genetic material, often change and mutate. Early research has shown the U.K. variant has mutations that could make it more infectious, which is why some officials have said it caused rapid case growth in the U.K.
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Bushman told NBC10 on Jan. 7 that the variant has mutations in the spike protein, which is how the virus breaks into cells in an infection.
"We are not overly concerned about this development because all available evidence shows that the existing vaccines are effective against this variant," Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker said in a statement. "So long as that continues to be the case, we will treat this variant the same as our other cases."
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Contact tracers in Philly and Bucks County have been working together to identify and reach out to anyone who came into close contact with the woman.
"Everyone in the area should take this information as a reminder to be even more consistent in wearing masks and keeping distance from others," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania confirmed its first case of the B.1.1.7 variant in a patient from Dauphin County who had no history of travel to the U.K.