South African COVID Strain Detected in Bay Area

California has confirmed the first cases of a new COVID-19 strain that emerged from South Africa, just as declining transmission rates and ramped up vaccine efforts have been providing hope.

The B1.351 variant was first detected last week in the counties of Alameda and Santa Clara. One Santa Clara patient had traveled internationally, so it’s not clear how wide community spread is at this point.

“We know that this virus will continue to adapt and to change. that’s its job," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody at a press conference. Health experts say the virus mutates about two times per month. It is all the more reason to get a handle on the contagion now.

The discovery isn't necessarily a reason to panic. While B1.351 is 30% to 50% more contagious, it appears to cause less severe disease. And while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is not very effective against this strain, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are believed to produce a substantial defense against the variant — even if its less substantial than against older strains.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also, unfortunately less effective against B1.351. However, it still provides some protection, especially against severe disease.

Read more about the South African variant and vaccine efficacy here.


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