Coronavirus variants may complicate Louisiana’s path out of pandemic

The Louisiana Department of Health is doubling down on efforts to increase surveillance for new and more contagious variants of the coronavirus, including keeping watch for some found in other countries that could threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines.

Less than a week after a more contagious version of coronavirus — first identified in the United Kingdom — was detected in Louisiana, reports have emerged of other concerning variants. In South Africa, a variant may challenge existing vaccines. In Brazil, scientists are studying whether a variant is causing a surge in reinfections. And in California, a variant has been linked to several outbreaks.

So far, none of the variants linked to South Africa or Brazil have been detected in the United States. Only one instance of the U.K.’s B.1.1.7 variant, which is estimated to be about 50% more contagious than common existing strains, has been found in Louisiana. But public health officials said that might be because the U.S. is not doing the amount of genome sequencing necessary to find it.

The good news is that a lot of the current variants are “variations on the same theme,” said Garry (virologist Bob Garry). The mutations in these variants are showing up in common spots within the virus.

But the mutations that allow variants to take over can result in more efficient versions of the virus.

“If they are spreading more quickly, more people will have the disease, more people will be hospitalized and more people die of it,” said Susanne Straif-Bourgeois, an epidemiologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Public Health.

This web post is an excerpt from the article titled “‘No way to sugarcoat this’: Coronavirus variants may complicate Louisiana’s path out of pandemic”, by Emily Woodruff who covers public health for The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate as a Report For America corps member.

(Pictured is Dr.Dr. Susanne Straif-Bourgeois)


FILE – This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Some political leaders are hailing a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19: simple pin-prick blood tests or nasal swabs that can determine within minutes if someone has, or previously had, the virus. But some scientists have challenged their accuracy. (NIAID-RML via AP)