Why Avera is testing for COVID-19 variants

KELOLAND.com Original

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists three different variants of the virus causing COVID-19 that are circulating globally.

In the Fall of 2020, the U.K. identified a variant called B.1.1.7, which spreads more quickly and easily than other variants. It was first detected in the U.S. at the end of December in 2020.

In October of 2020, another variant called B.1.351 was identified in South Africa. This version shares some mutations with B.1.1.7, and was reported in the U.S. at the end of January 2021.

The third variant, called P.1, was first identified in travelers from Brazil during screening at an airport in Japan. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. It was first reported in the U.S. in early January, 2021.

The CDC also says that they are currently unsure of how widely these variants have spread and how the version of COVID caused by them may differ from the original. More research also needs to be done to determine or how these variants may affect current treatments, therapies and vaccines.

Currently, Avera has the only lab in South Dakota that is testing on its own for the different variants.

KELOLAND News spoke today with Avera Dr. David Basel, vice president of clinical quality with Avera Health who told us about the process and the importance of Avera being able to identify these variants.

“We actually check somewhere between 20 to 50 samples a week ourselves checking for mainly the U.K. variant, trying to see if any of them have it,” said Basel. He went on to note that while at the moment they are only able to test for the U.K. variant, they are developing a process to detect the Brazilian and South African variants, and hope to be able to identify them within the next couple of weeks.

The lab tests samples gathered from the Avera testing locations, and according to Basel the turnaround time for variant testing is currently only 24 hours.

Basel says this is important, telling us, “When we start seeing those in the state, that’s going to clue us in that we need to be a little bit more vigilant; that we might start to see cases start to rise again instead of declining like they are, and so that’s why we’re watching for that so closely, because that will clue us in that we need to beware that numbers may start increasing again.”

So far, both Avera and the CDC say no new variants of the virus have been detected in South Dakota. However, cases of the U.K. variant have been reported in Minnesota, Iowa and Wyoming. View the CDC’s map of variant cases by state by clicking here.

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