More Infectious UK COVID Variant B.1.1.7 Now Confirmed in Eight States

A more infectious variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has now been confirmed in at least eight U.S. states, according to state officials.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the United Kingdom at the end of last year but it has now spread to several countries.

The variant appears to be significantly more transmissible than the original—perhaps by around 50 percent—although it does not seem to cause more severe illness, scientists have said.

Last week, the variant was identified in the United States for the first time after public health officials in Colorado picked up a case. Cases were subsequently detected in California, Florida, Georgia and New York.

On Thursday, officials in Texas, Pennsylvania and Connecticut announced that the variant had been identified in their states.

This took the number of states with confirmed cases to eight, although experts warn that it is likely to be circulating undetected across much of the country.

Greg Armstrong, head of the strain surveillance program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post on Wednesday: "We're definitely taking this seriously, and we're assuming for now that this variant is more transmissible."

He said the variant was "probably not in every state at this point, but I think in a lot of states."

On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Newsweek that the B.1.1.7 variant was likely "more widespread in the United States than we are currently detecting it to be."

To date, more than 50 cases of the variant have been detected across the eight states. The vast majority of B.1.1.7 cases identified so far are in California (26) and Florida (22), according to the CDC.

On Thursday, health officials in Texas announced that a man in his 30s with no recent travel history had tested positive for the variant in Harris County. The man is in a stable condition and is now isolating, while public health officials are tracing his close contacts.

The fact that the patient had no recent travel history indicates that the variant is already circulating in Texas, said John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Connecticut announced on Thursday that two cases of the variant had been detected—one of whom was a person with a history of travel to Ireland.

One case was also confirmed in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.

British scientists have blamed a recent spike in COVID cases in the U.K. on the spread of the B.1.1.7 strain.

Fauci told Newsweek that the current surge in cases in the U.S.—which recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday—was likely not down to the variant.

"We have our own problems with surging cases," he said. "I don't think that the U.K. mutation has been responsible for the rather substantial surge of cases in the United States, because the U.K. variant is here, but it's not the dominant strain in the United States.

"But even with that not being the dominant strain, we still have a very steep curve of cases in our country."

Experts say the variant will likely spread fast in the coming weeks.

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins told the Post on Wednesday: "I would be surprised if that doesn't grow pretty rapidly."

Man receives a COVID test in Colorado
A man receives a COVID test on December 30 in Parker, Colorado. The testing site is close to Elbert County, where the first U.S. case of a person with the more infectious variant of COVID-19 was detected. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images