May 21, 2021 – LSU Health Shreveport has identified two cases of the novel COVID-19 variant of concern, B.1.617.2, which was first identified in India and is rapidly spreading around the world.
LSU Health Shreveport sequencing also reveals that B.1.1.7, sometimes called “the U.K. variant,” remains dominant in North Louisiana, as is the case in the rest of the United States, as well.
To date, LSU Health Shreveport’s Center for Emerging Viral Threats (CEVT) has processed more than 331,000 COVID-19 test samples of which 7629 have been positive. LSU Health Shreveport scientists have decoded the genome sequences for over 2640 of these virus samples, which represents 56% of all viral genomic surveillance data from Louisiana.
The emergence of the B.1.617.2 variant in both North Louisiana and North Texas is concerning because it is believed to be more transmissible than earlier variants. Because of its rapid spread around the world, the World Health Organization has classified B.1.617.2 as a Variant of Concern. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet done so.
The continued increase in variants that transmit more rapidly and may resist antibodies provides a powerful reminder why all eligible citizens should strongly consider getting the vaccine as quickly as possible. Due to lack of studies on the mortality and severity of newer variants, all precautions should be taken. Scientists remind us that the best way to stop new variants in their tracks is to get as many people as possible vaccinated, as is the case in Israel, where new cases have plummeted since the country achieved very high rates of vaccination.
While the B.1.617.2 variant may be more transmissible, early lab studies indicate that current COVID-19 vaccines provide good protection. The P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil and Japan, however, is both more transmissible and less susceptible to antibodies that protect against earlier variants, resulting in it being listed as a Variant of Concern by the CDC and WHO. Two additional cases of the P.1 variant also showed up in the latest batch of samples sequenced by LSU Health Shreveport, bringing the total detected from Louisiana to 18. “Importantly, even though some of these variants, such as P.1, are able to re-infect people who already had recovered from an earlier case of COVID-19, our current vaccines do a magnificent job protecting people from severe disease,” said Dr. Jeremy Kamil, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at LSU Health Shreveport. “Continued public health surveillance through genome sequencing for viral variants remains an important mission of CEVT at LSU Health Shreveport to help protect the region and entire state during this pandemic,” said Dr. Chris Kevil, Vice Chancellor for Research at LSU Health Shreveport.