Just when the Covid-19 vaccine has started kindling some hope back, the world is yet again in deep waters. Another strain of Covid-19, and a more contagious one, has been first identified in the United Kingdom, threatening to strain the healthcare and the economy even more. 

5 U.S states and 33 countries have identified the new variant as B.1.1.7. Aside from that, a new variant was also detected first in South Africa and also appears to infect people more easily. 

“Because the variants spread more rapidly, they could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our heavily burdened health care systems,” said Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 response.

“We need to be even more vigilant in our prevention measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

How contagious is the new strain? 

According to the CDC, the new strain found in the United Kingdom spreads quickly and more easily than any other strains. It was first detected in September and was responsible for a quarter of the cases in London by November. By December 9, it was accounted to be the strain that occupies 60% of the cases in the city. 

Scientists in the U.K. have found that this new variant is 40-70% more infectious.

What makes it more contagious?

According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, acquires about one new mutation in its genome every two weeks. The U.K. variant has several mutations that affect the “spike protein” on the virus 

“It’s able to bind to the receptors on cells better, and therefore is transmitted better,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said at the end of December.

How lethal is the new strain?

The CDC stated that there is no evidence that B.1.1.7 causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. 

How effective is the vaccine against the new strain? 

Researchers believe that that current COVID-19 vaccine will be able to protect against B.1.1.7, however, data is still needed. According to the CDC, The virus would “likely need to accumulate multiple mutations in the spike protein to evade immunity induced by vaccines or by natural infection,”

“From what we know from experience with this mutation and other mutations, it’s unlikely to have a large impact on vaccine-induced immunity, or existing immunity from previous strains,” said Dr. Greg Armstrong, director of the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection. Armstrong said it is unclear how the variant may respond to COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibody treatments.

How long has the new strain been in the US? 

The first identified B.1.1.7 variant in the US was on December 28 in a COVID-19 patient who has no reported travel history. This suggests that the virus is now spreading from person to person. It’s unclear how widespread the variant has become, experts say.

According to the CDC, The U.S. has sequenced viruses from only about 51,000 U.S. cases. The nation now has more than 20 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

“Given the small fraction of U.S. infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected,” the CDC said last month.

“The new strain is estimated to represent about 1% of all infections (in the U.S.) at this moment but because of its increased contagiousness, the best estimates are that it will become a majority of all new infections by March,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Where has the new strain been detected?

The B.1.1.7 strain has been identified in the areas of California, Colorado, Florida, New York and Georgia. Public health experts expect to identify the new strain in more states. 

The strain has been detected in at least 33 countries, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.