NEVADA (KTNV) — The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine has characterized the first known Nevada case of the new B.1.1.7 coronavirus strain.
The new strain was detected in a sample that was initially tested in the Southern Nevada Public Health Laboratory.
The specimen was collected during routine community collection activities and tested by SNPHL to determine if it was positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
During testing, it was discovered the specimen was showing characteristics of the variant. It was then sent to NSPHL for sequencing and confirmation.
The NSPHL sequenced the specimen on Jan. 21 and analyzed the data that detected the new strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in Nevada the following day.
The B.1.1.7 strain first emerged in the U.K. in fall 2020 and has become highly prevalent in certain geographical regions according to the CDC.
Since December 2020, several other countries, Canada and the United States among them, have reported cases of the virus variant.
Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Mark Pandori, Ph.D., says the lab detected the case as part of its B.1.1.7 strain testing program.
The B.1.1.7 strain was found in a specimen from a symptomatic woman in her 30s, with an address in Las Vegas.
Dr. Pandori says this strain is more contagious, but it is not yet known whether the variant causes a more severe illness than the reference COVID-19 strain.
“It is copying itself a lot right now, which can lead to mutating," said Pandori. "The more a virus spreads in a community, the more opportunities it has to make mistakes when it copies itself. This leads to what we see here and it's a very natural part of viral evolution.”
The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory says it has been analyzing positive COVID-19 virus samples for the B.1.1.7 strain since mid-December 2020 through whole-genome sequencing.
The lab is currently working on surveilling as many positive COVID-19 cases as it can for the new B.1.1.7 strain. This surveillance will continue on a daily basis throughout the pandemic.
The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory is using CARES Act funds to purchase equipment that helps them identify mutations within any and all viruses through genetic sequencing.
With the new equipment, scientists have the ability to screen positive cases for the genetics associated with any variants of interest, including the U.K. and South Africa variants, to determine if the new strains are found in Nevada.
While research and scientific advancements continue to build, Pandori says continuing to follow the recommended guidelines is among the effective ways to continue to fight the virus.
“This is a novel disease. We still have a steep learning curve ahead and lots of work to do, especially as inconvenient truths arise,” said Pandori.