The variant strain of COVID-19 reported in various parts of the country has been detected in Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services said Wednesday.
Wisconsin health officials said a more contagious variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in the northwestern region of the state.
The state’s Department of Health Services said the strain was found Tuesday in Eau Claire County. Health leaders said the person reported traveling internationally within two weeks of their positive test.
“We don’t have any evidence that it causes people to be sicker or more likely to die, but what we do see from the epidemiology data is that it spreads quicker,” said DHS Chief Medical Officer of Communicable Diseases Dr. Ryan Westergaard.
Dr. Westergaard said the variant was found in a special lab that identifies strains of the coronavirus by reading its genetic material. Dr. Westergaard said less than 1 percent of the state’s positive cases go to these labs for additional testing.
“It certainly would not be surprising if there’s a lot more than we realize,” Dr. Westergaard.
The B.1.1.7 strain of SARS-CoV-2 was first discovered a couple months ago in England and quickly became the United Kingdom’s dominant strain. Wisconsin has become at least the 11th state in the country to find the variant. As of two days ago, 72 cases had been identified by the CDC in the United States.
“It takes a fewer number of virus particles to cause an infection in a person,” Dr. Westergaard said.
UW Health’s Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Nasia Safdar explained why the variant is more contagious.
“It has to attach itself to some receptors on the human and this particular one seems to attach itself much more tightly than the other usual circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2, so because it binds more tightly, it has the opportunity to enter the cell of the host,” she said.
Westergaard said the variant’s reproduction rate is 1.4 to 1.7 times higher than the original strain. The CDC estimates for every case of the original coronavirus strain, two to three additional people are infected on average. Research shows that each person who contracts the new variant infects roughly three to five additional people.
State health leaders said it’s time to double down on precautions of social distancing, wearing masks and limiting trips outside your home. Dr. Westergaard said the coronavirus vaccine is believed to work against the new strain.