A variant of the virus responsible for COVID-19 has emerged in Wisconsin, the state health department announced Wednesday — one that first appeared in England and seems to spread more easily than the original virus.
Both are strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, an infection primarily of the upper respiratory system. The resulting pandemic has been underway for a year.
The new strain, identified as B.1.1.7, was first detected in England in November and December. The state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported that a laboratory working with the state had identified the strain on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm stated Wednesday.
DHS reported that the new strain was identified as a result of routine genome sequencing that is part of continuing public health surveillance.
While the new strain spreads “more rapidly and easily,” according to DHS, the department stated that it doesn’t currently appear to cause more severe illness or higher risk of death.
“All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time,” according to a DHS statement Wednesday.