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KDHE: South African variant of COVID-19 identified in Kansas

Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 2:14 PM CDT
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FINNEY COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - The South African variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Finney County, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). This is the first known case of the variant in the state.

The variant was determined through the whole genome sequencing conducted through KDHE laboratories. The state health department said a case investigation is being conducted to determine how the person became infected with this particular variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as if others may have been exposed. No further details are being released concerning the patient, including demographics.

The B.1.351 variant was originally identified in South Africa in December and has been found in 31 states and territories in the U.S. At this point, it is not known to cause more severe disease and it is not clear whether it spreads more readily than other strains. Although this strain can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death.

“We continue to encourage people to take the appropriate precautions. This includes wearing a mask that fits snuggly around the nose and face and has multiple layers of fabric or layering thinner masks with an additional cloth face mask to improve the fit,” Dr. Lee Norman, KDHE Secretary, said. “Kansans should also follow isolation and quarantine recommendations, practice physical distancing, good hygiene, staying home if ill and getting the vaccine if you are able to.”

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious disease physician at the University of Kansas Health System, said the variant could be transmitted more easily and may be more life-threatening than the COVID-19 virus. But current, there is not much solid data.

“Sometimes they’re associated with increased transmissability. There’s also continued investigation on if they cause worse disease, more severe disease,” Dr. Hawkinson said. “Right now, the jury is still out on that. The investigation is ongoing.”

While there are still many unknowns, early data suggests all three COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe cases from the variant. On Thursday, Pfizer said its vaccine performed well in South African clinical trials.

“When you do get vaccinated, you still have good efficacy and protection against severe disease and hospitalization, or death, even against these new variants,” Dr. Hawkinson said.

Another variant of concern, B.1.1.7, also known as the UK variant, has previously been identified in Kansas. There are currently 76 cases identified in 14 counties. This variant was first reported in the U.S. at the end of December 2020. Evidence from the UK indicates that this variant spreads much more quickly through the population and, given that fact, may rapidly increase the number of hospitalizations and deaths. More studies are needed to confirm this finding.

Testing is available and free for all Kansans. To find a location near you, visit: www.gogettested.com/kansas.

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