By Patrick Lynn
The state health department has confirmed on Wednesday that a variant strain of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been found in Wisconsin.
According to a news release from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the strain B.1.1.7., also known as the “U.K.” strain first discovered “circulating widely” in England late last year, spreads “more rapidly and easily” than the original strain.
“However, there is no evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the news release reads in part.
“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm.
In Wisconsin, the strain was identified through “ongoing surveillance and whole-genome sequencing, a routine practice since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the news release said. All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time.
“Mutations among viruses are very common. It’s not unusual—in fact, it’s expected. As time goes on in the pandemic and the virus continues to replicate on a large scale, the genetic sequence of the virus will change,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the DHS.
DHS, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and other laboratory partners regularly work together to ensure whole-genome sequencing is performed on a small proportion of tests collected. This routine analysis of genetic sequence data assisted in identifying the new variant strain in Wisconsin.
“With emerging mutations of SARS-CoV-2, and those that may be more infectious, it is critically important to follow best public health practices, including wearing a mask, staying home, maintaining physical distance, and washing hands frequently,” the news release said.