Covid-19 in the US: first cases of the South African strain. what differences does it have?

Officials in South Carolina have announced the first two confirmed cases in the United States of the highly transmissible South African strain of covid-19.

Covid-19 in US: first cases of the South African strain. what differences does it have?

Two adult individuals with no travel history and no connection to each other have tested positive for the strain of covid-19 first detected in South Africa. The new variant is more contagious and can evade protective antibodies generated by earlier infections, as well as less susceptible to antibody drugs.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced in a statement that the two cases were discovered separately, one by the CDC and the other DHEC's Public Health Laboratory. At present it is unclear how widespread or localized the strain may be in South Carolina since they were picked up from random sampling the state and CDC perform. Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director said “The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over.”

How is the South African strain different from other strains?

Viruses are mutating all the time and at present the three most worrying variants of covid-19 have been detected in the US, the strains first discovered in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. The South African strain which has been detected in over 30 countries, is approximately 50 percent more transmissible similar to the UK strain. The UK variant is expected to be the dominant strain in the US by March according to the CDC.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,”

Dr. Brannon Traxler.

The variant from Brazil was first discovered in a random swab in a surveillance program in Minnesota on Monday. The South African strain shares a modification with the one discovered in Brazil. Both are able to evade detection by the body's antibodies. However, at present experts believe that the existing vaccines are effective against these variants, the degree to which is still being investigated but preliminary results are good. Vaccine makers are working on new vaccines and booster shots that could be used if immunity fails.

Currently there is no evidence that any of the strains cause a more severe illness or are deadlier. However if they are more transmissible, as scientists suspect based on preliminary data, the resulting boost to the infection rate would increase hospitalizations and deaths.