The B.1.1.7 variant of the Covid-19 virus, first discovered in the United Kingdom in November 2020, has been detected in Monroe County, according to the Monroe County Health Department.
The B.1.1.7 variant was first reported in the United States in December 2020 and first identified in Wisconsin in January 2021. There have been 139 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Wisconsin, according to the health department.
A variant is a new strain of the Covid-19 virus with certain gene mutations that make it unique from the original strain. Variants are common with all viruses since viruses constantly change through gene mutations, the health department noted.
New variants are found through a process called “whole genome sequencing,” a process takes a sample of the virus and reads its genetic code. Wisconsin DHS, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and other laboratory partners regularly work together to make sure that whole genome sequencing is performed on a small sample of positive tests. Mutations among viruses are very common — it’s expected to occur in all viruses, including Covid-19.
Most variants do not change how the virus behaves, and many disappear, according to the health department. It is possible, however, that mutations can help a virus spread more easily, can cause infection to be more or less severe, or can lead to resistance to treatments or vaccines.
Variant B.1.1.7 appears to be more contagious than other strains, which is why it has been getting a lot of attention, according to the health department.
Early research has found that the B.1.1.7 variant spreads more quickly than existing strains of Covid-19. The variant may be associated with an increased risk of death, but more studies are needed to confirm this, the health department noted.
Experts expect that all three of the currently Covid-19 vaccines effectively reduce the risk of COVID-19 for all of the circulating variants, according to the health department.
The health department’s guidance for the public remains the same:
• Wash your hands frequently
• Maintain social distancing (if you’ve already been vaccinated, follow the CDC’s new guidelines for vaccinated individuals)
• Wear a mask
• Get vaccinated when you are able
For more information about Covid-19 variants, visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/variants.