COVID-19 variant may have been in US since October, report claims

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A more contagious strain of the coronavirus which has been confirmed in three US states may have already been in the country since October, according to a new report.

Researchers say a mutation of the virus identified in the US appears to be similar to the B117 variant of the bug — the so-called “British variant” — which may have even originated in America, the Guardian said in a report.

The more-easily transmitted strain has been identified in patients in California, Colorado and Florida as of Friday, the paper said.

“It wouldn’t be at all surprising if at lease some of the cases were B117,” said researcher Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.

“It has probably been here for a while at low levels, but you don’t see it until you look for it,” Topol said.

British officials announced the existence of a variant of the global pandemic on Dec. 14, prompting at least 17 countries to announce travel bans from the UK.

On Thursday, Florida became the third US state to identify a similar variant — joining California and Colorado, which reported cases earlier this week.

The discovery prompted scientists at California DNA-testing company Helix to review 2 million COVID-19 tests, which determined that a similar gene pattern to the mutated virus existed in some samples since October, the Guardian said.

Helix is now working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the extent of the presence of the variant in the country.

“If we do see the (B117 variant), then we might be able to look at whether it was introduced into the US one time or multiple times, or if it has further mutated,” said Nicole Washington, associated director of research at Helix.

“If all the samples have it, then it has probably been here for a while,” she said. “But if only one or two samples have it then it may be that it was recently introduced and we’re just at the beginning of seeing it spread.”

Scientist said there is also a possibility — although unlikely — that the variant originated in the US and not in Britain.

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