First U.S. cases of contagious South African variant detected in South Carolina

(NY DAILY NEWS) – The newer, more transmissible variant of COVID-19 first seen in South Africa has been found in two patients in South Carolina with no travel history, health officials said.

Officials said the two patients were not connected, meaning the spread of the B. 1.351 variant was already underway.

Health officials in the U.S. and around the world have expressed concern as multiple variants of COVID-19, believed to be more transmissible and potentially deadlier, have cropped up. A third variant, which originated in the Brazilian city of Manaus, has also appeared in the U.S.

“At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease. Like the UK and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” the CDC said Thursday in a statement.

The South Africa variant is believed to be even more worrisome than the U.K. variant that has already been reported in 29 states.

Experts hope that new efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and researchers at universities and the private sector will provide better COVID surveillance and more quickly identify variant cases and how they are spreading.

Earlier this week, Moderna announced plans for a booster to its own vaccine that targeted the South Africa variant after researchers said it might, as well as the other variants, not be treatable by the available vaccines.

The CDC and other health officials said that the public would be wise to adhere to strict social distancing measures and continue wearing a mask or face covering until vaccines are more widely available.

“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” Brannon Traxler, interim director of the South Carolina public health department, said in the statement. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference.”

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