UT Southwestern scientists in Dallas announced concerning news in the fight against Covid-19. The medical school identified the first North Texas case of the Brazil P.1 Covid-19 strain in North Texas.
The P.1 variant is the strain causing devasting levels of disease throughout Brazil. Scientists worldwide monitor its progression as P.1 is known to be more transmissible and shows some resistance to immune system antibodies. Dallas researchers closely monitor the Covid-19 variants circulating in North Texas to help provide data to public health workers.
According to the press release, the strain was isolated using next-generation sequencing technologies along with PCR testing. UT Southwestern genetic scientists in Dallas collaborate with local testing centers to perform Covid-19 genetic sequencing in the department of Genomics and Molecular Pathology. The medical school shares the trends with the public.
Genetic sequencing provides public policymakers with more information to better guide health policy. This comprehensive approach enables the early detection of new health threats as the research team closely monitors the coronavirus circulating strains in Texas. UT Southwestern shares the information with Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS).
Institutional genetic sequencing is a critical step for public health officials. Researchers at Texas A&M University recently identified a new Covid-19 variant called BV-1 by performing genetic sequencing on Covid strains from severe, mild, and asymptomatic infections.
While Covid testing has slowed in Texas, it remains a crucial element in our fight against the pandemic. Testing allows doctors to diagnose and treat those who have Covid-19. Testing enables health workers to do contact tracing and find others who may have been exposed. Testing with genetic sequencing provides information to the public health system to track trends in specific communities.
Genetic mutations are an expected result of a widely circulating virus. Viruses naturally mutate, and SARS-CoV-2 variants have been emerging and will continue to spread around the world. Public health agencies closely monitor these trends to identify and prepare for new threats.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks the various coronavirus strains and categorizes them into lineages. The viral groups are then categorized as variants of concern (VOC), variants of interest (VOI), or Variant of High Consequence. Covid-19 P.I is categorized as a variant of concern.
The CDC labels a strain as a variant of concern when it meets certain criteria. The label is applied when a variant is more transmissible, causes more severe disease, or if the strain can evade neutralizing antibodies. The CDC also monitors these strains to determine if they are resistant to our current diagnostic tests, treatments, or vaccines.
The P.1 variant has demonstrated some resistance to monoclonal antibody treatments due to a mutation called an E484K substitution in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Neutralizing antibodies from natural infection or the current vaccines are also less effective against P.1.
The identification of the P.1 variant in North Texas is an important finding. UT Southwestern pathologist stated, “An important part of forecasting is predicting how quickly the disease will spread, so knowing which variants are prevalent helps us make more accurate models.”
Right now P.1 is not widely circulating in Texas. The Uk strain, B.1.1.7, is the dominant strain in most states, including Texas. The B.1.1.7 variant accounts for 44.7% of the cases load in Texas. UT Southwestern sequencing protocols show the B.1.1.7 variant accounts for 55% of North Texas Covid-19 cases.
This data will be critically important as we move into the next phase of the pandemic. Public health systems will continue to monitor the progression of Covid variant and use this information to prepare for he growing needs of those with post-Covid conditions.
A recent report shows one out of three Covid-19 survivors continue to have symptoms after their initial infection resolves. Stories about “Covid long haulers” are popping up worldwide.
To learn more about Long Covid click here.