- Maryland officials said a Baltimore man caught the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa.
- The man had not traveled abroad and likely caught the variant locally, said Maryland’s governor.
- The mutant variant is more contagious, but not thought to be more deadly.
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The US has identified its third case of the more contagious coronavirus variant found in South Africa – this time in a man from Maryland.
The man, from the Baltimore region, had not traveled outside the country, Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement, which means it’s “likely” he caught it in the community.
This is the third case of the variant found in the US: South Carolina state officials announced Thursday the first two confirmed cases of the variant in the country. Neither person had travelled outside the US, and the two cases were not connected, state health officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant, named B.1.351, can “spread more easily and quickly,” but there is no evidence it is more deadly. The variant has a mutation on its spike protein, which is what the coronavirus uses to invade human cells.
Hogan said Maryland health officials were trying to identify and test the man’s contacts, as well as “closely monitoring the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state.”
“We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”
The man did not need to go to hospital and is recovering at home, Maryland health department spokesman Charles Gischlar told The Washington Post.
Maryland has confirmed 352,726 cases of COVID-19. Nationwide, nearly 26 million cases have been confirmed, and the virus has killed more than 435,000 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Studies suggest vaccines are effective against the variant
The latest evidence suggests that vaccines work against the variant – albeit slightly less effectively than against the original virus.
A study published Wednesday showed Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine worked against a lab-made coronavirus similar to the South Africa variant. Performance was slightly lower than against the original virus, but this was “unlikely to lead to a significant reduction” in effectiveness, the drug companies said. Moderna announced similar results of a study on Monday.
There is not yet sufficient data to say whether vaccines work against the variant outside of laboratory conditions.
Some studies have suggested the variant may be able to evade antibodies produced by the body. Both Pfizer and Moderna, who make the two vaccines authorized in the US, are developing new versions of their vaccines to counter the variant.
President Joe Biden has banned travelers from South Africa from entering the US.
The US has also reported cases of mutant variants found in Brazil and the UK. The variant first identified in the UK, B.1.1.7, is the most widespread of the three variants now confirmed in the US, and experts believe it has been circulating in the US for several weeks.