New variant of COVID-19 found in Wisconsin

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 10:23 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - A variant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Health Services.

The variant strain is known as B.1.1.7., and is the same one that spread in England in November and December.

DHS officials say the strain was identified during surveillance and genome sequencing.

Wisconsin is now one of almost a dozen states where the new variant has shown up, matching that highly contagious one sweeping across the U.K. right now.

During a DHS briefing Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the Chief Medical Officer, addressed the concern.

“Our advice to patients is if they have a genetic variant isn’t different than if they have the original strain that’s circulating. Everything we know so far tells us it’s the same infection. It’s the same risk. It’s the same likelihood of having illness,” said Dr. Westergaard.

Experts say it isn’t more deadly, and symptoms are similar to the original strain. However, researchers believe this new strain spreads more rapidly than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.

At this time, this mutated strain isn’t known to cause a more severe illness or increased risk of death, however, a more contagious variant means more people could become infected. That could increase the number of people who also need hospital care.

Action 2 News has learned the resident who contracted it lives in the Eau Claire area, and did isolate.

“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm.

Viruses are known to mutate.

“Mutations among viruses are very common. It’s not unusual – in fact, it’s expected. As time goes on in the pandemic and the virus continues to replicate on a large scale, the genetic sequence of the virus will change,” said Dr. Westergaard. “These things continue to be extremely important and potentially more so if we’re faced with a circulating strain of the virus that isn’t as forgiving, that is more likely to spread.”

As for the vaccine, so far, studies show it to be effective against the new strain.

“These come from studies in test tubes to see how well the antibodies that the vaccine is used to stimulate, bind or neutralize the virus. So far that work which is still in process hasn’t given any reason to be concerned,” said Dr. Westergaard.

Locally, a spokesperson for Ascension Wisconsin stated:

“While the vaccine provides hope, it is still critical for everyone to continue diligent mitigation strategies to control the spread. Wear a mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands.”

Two other new variants of the virus have also been confirmed in Ohio, which are also proving to be more contagious.

CLICK HERE for more information on COVID-19 variants.

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