New COVID variant strain B.1.1.7 found in Lewis County

A variant strain case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Lewis County.

Lewis County Public Health Director Anita Bertram says that a COVID-19 positive test sample from a local resident earlier this month contains the B.1.1.7 strain.

This strain is also known as the United Kingdom (UK) variant. The UK variant is a mutation of the SARS CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

This is the first confirmed case of this strain detected in Lewis County. The first confirmed case in Kentucky was reported in January.

Bertram said random sequence testing of specimens completed by LabCorp identified the B.1.1.7 variant in the Lewis County case.  She said the specimen collection date was early this month.

“Sequencing takes a long time to complete and we were only just notified,” Bertram said. “It is confirmation that this variant is here in Lewis County.”

She said there is evidence that B.1.1.7 has increased transmissibility, so it has a greater ability to spread quickly in people.

She added that studies are showing that the vaccine is effective against the B.1.1.7 variant.

“It is extremely important to have the vaccine to help stop the spread,” Bertram said.

“Now, more than ever, we must all be vigilant in taking the steps we know are effective – wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, handwashing and not going to work, school or events if you have any of the symptoms,” Bertram said.

“Getting vaccinated provides that extra layer of protection,” she added.

The health department is planning two vaccination clinics in May in the Clarksburg and Tollesboro communities. Vaccines are also being administered at the health department by appointment.

Lewis County ranks high in the state for unvaccinated individuals and has had the highest rate of COVID-19 incidence of all Kentucky counties over the past week.

“The vaccines are safe and they are effective,” Bertram said. “We must make every effort to curb the spread and protect our residents.”

Tuesday’s COVID-19 numbers for Lewis County include 1,306 total cases with 62 active cases. There have been 35 deaths associated with COVID-19.

For information or to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, call the health department at 606-796-2632.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sheds some light on the variant strain:

• This variant (B.1.1.7) has a mutation in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at position 501, where the amino acid asparagine (N) has been replaced with tyrosine (Y). The shorthand for this mutation is N501Y. This variant also has several other mutations, including:

• 69/70 deletion: occurred spontaneously many times and likely leads to a conformational change in the spike protein.

• P681H: near the S1/S2 furin cleavage site, a site with high variability in coronaviruses. This mutation has also emerged spontaneously multiple times.

• This variant is estimated to have first emerged in the UK during September 2020.

• Since December 20, 2020, several countries have reported cases of the B.1.1.7 lineage, including the United States.

• This variant is associated with increased transmissibility (i.e., more efficient and rapid transmission).

• In January 2021, scientists from UK reported evidence that suggests the B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants.

• Early reports found no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of disease or vaccine efficacy.

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