Researchers found that clusters of the B.1.1.7 variant had emerged in California by November 6 and by November 23 in Florida
A new coronavirus variant called B.1.1.7, which has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations and was first discovered in the UK, may have been circulating in the US since November 2020, according to scientists. This is several weeks before health officials in Britain flagged it as a concern.
In mid-December last year, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock informed that the new Covid-19 variant, which may be associated with the faster spread in the southeastern part of England, has been identified. However, in a new analysis, researchers from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona traced the strain and found that clusters of it had emerged in California by November 6 and Florida by November 23.
“The first evidence of this lineage in the US was reported in Colorado on December 29, 2020. For the two largest clades of B.1.1.7 in the US, we infer separate introductions of B.1.1.7 into California and Florida, with median TMRCAs (time of the most recent common ancestors) of November 6 and November 23, respectively. It is striking that this lineage may already have been established in the US for some 5-6 weeks before B.1.1.7 was first identified as a variant of concern in the UK in mid-December,” write authors in the study titled, “Phylogenetic evidence that B.1.1.7 has been circulating in the United States since early- to mid-November.”
The team emphasizes that it may have been circulating in the US for close to 2 months before it was first detected on December 29. “It is also worth noting the vast majority (more than 90%) of US B.1.1.7 cases appear to be generated in these well-established domestic outbreaks rather than via travel-related introductions from the UK or other affected countries, though such cases are surely also happening,” they add.
The report, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, has been published online on virological.org. These results, suggest authors, highlight the importance of a global perspective on genome sequencing to detect and monitor new SARS-CoV-2 variants. “Given how rapidly new variants can spread across the globe due to air travel, and how long even variants with reportedly increased transmission rates can remain undetected after becoming established in new regions, it is essential that all countries continue efforts to reduce transmission,” they recommend.
The study, however, indicates that just 0.4% of coronavirus cases recorded in California between December 27 and January 2 were found to be the new variant. “This suggests the dynamics of B.1.1.7 might be somewhat less explosive in California versus its. Brinkwire Brief News.