DHS confirms South Africa variant of COVID-19 found in Wisconsin

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Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (pink) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (green), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

MADISON, Wis. — A second variant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been confirmed in Wisconsin.

The state Department of Health Services said the South Africa variant, also known as B.1.351, was identified Thursday through genome sequencing. The variant differs from the UK variant, which was first confirmed in Wisconsin in January.

The B.1.351 variant was discovered in South Africa in samples stemming from October. Researchers said both of the new variants are more contagious compared to the original COVID-19 strain. Some evidence also suggests the South Africa variant can possibly affect how certain antibodies respond to the virus.

Experts said all three of the authorized vaccines effectively reduce the risk of the virus and its variants.

“It is important to remember that new variants are expected to occur over time. Here in Wisconsin, whole genome sequencing of positive specimens from COVID-19 cases is done on a regular basis,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. “Because these variants may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, mask wearing, staying home, physically distancing, and washing your hands continues to be crucial.”

As of Friday afternoon, health officials have identified one case of the South Africa variant and 26 cases of the UK variant in Wisconsin.