The ‘Bristol variant’ of Covid-19 has been found in the United States of America, according to health chiefs in the US.
The mutation, which has been designated a ‘variant of concern’ by Government health chiefs here in the UK, was first discovered in 11 cases in and around Bristol at the end of January, and led to the mass ‘surge’ testing in the city and neighbouring South Gloucestershire in the past fortnight.
Now, at a White House press briefing, Dr Rochelle Walensky, a director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has confirmed the Bristol variant has been found in Covid cases in the US too.
The Bristol variant is being monitored closely here in Britain because it is seen as having the most capacity of all the Covid-19 variants so far discovered, to diminish the effectiveness of vaccines against the virus.
The Bristol variant has the same make-up as the Kent strain, which swept the country in November and December and has now become almost the totally dominant strain of covid in Britain.
But the Bristol variant also has the same additional mutation on the E484K spike protein that is seen on the South African variant of Covid that has begun to be found in Britain too – so it is a combination of the two variants that is worrying public health chiefs so much here.
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Earlier this week, Bristol and South Gloucestershire’s public health chiefs said they were reassured by early results of surge testing which appeared to show the Bristol variant was no more contagious or serious than the Kent variant, but it will be the efficacy of vaccines against it that is of most concern.
“E484K is currently the mutation with most evidence of causing antigenic change,” the PHE said in a statement last week. “Several independent studies showing the impact of different antigenic variants have concluded E484K is among the single mutations with the greatest impact.”
Dr Walensky told the White House press briefing that the first UK variant – the Kent one, known as B.1.1.7., had now been found in 42 states across the US, and warned this one could become the dominant strain in the US.
When this was discovered before Christmas, scientists here said they estimated it appeared to be 70 per cent more contagious than the original Covid-19 virus, and latest research appears to indicate this is because it takes longer for a sufferer to show symptoms – but they are still contagious during that time – so they spread it to more people.
At the White House, Dr Walensky warned the Bristol variant could affect the US’s vaccine programme, at a time when case numbers and hospitalisations have declined in the States by around 20 per cent a week.