April 6, 2021 -- Researchers at Stanford University have identified a case of a new coronavirus variant with two mutations, which was first detected in India last month. The variant was found in a patient in the San Francisco Bay Area, university officials announced on Saturday.
“We believe this is the first described case with this variant in the United States,” Lisa Kim, a spokeswoman for Stanford Health Care, told NBC News in a statement.
The variant has two mutations in the spike protein of the coronavirus that allows it to attach to cells. Indian health officials first detected the variant last month. The “double mutation” could be of concern if the variant is more transmissible or deadly, but health officials have not yet called it a “variant of concern.”
“There is no definite evidence that this double variant is more virulent or causes more severe disease,” Dean Winslow, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University, told NBC Bay Area.
So far, the CDC has focused on three variants of concern — B.1.1.7 first identified in the UK, B.1.351 first identified in South Africa and P.1 first identified in Brazil. The U.S. has reported more than 12,500 B.1.1.7 cases in 51 states and territories, according to the latest CDC tally updated on April 1. The CDC has also reported 323 B.1.351 cases and 224 P.1 cases.
Health officials are watching the new variant in India. COVID-19 cases decreased across the country from September through the winter but surged again in February, according to The Associated Press. By the end of March, record highs were being reported in cases and deaths again.
On Monday, India recorded its highest tally of the pandemic with more than 103,000 new cases in one day, according to The New York Times. More than half of the cases were in the state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, where officials ordered shops, movie theaters, markets and restaurants to close except for essential services.
Public health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated to protect against COVID-19 variants. The U.S. has shipped 207 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and more than 106 million people have received at least one dose, according to the latest CDC tally updated on Sunday. More than 61 million people, or 18.5% of the population, are considered fully vaccinated.
Researchers believe the three vaccines authorized in the U.S. should provide some protection against the variant with two mutations.
“Most people will mount an immune response,” Winslow said. “Maybe it will not protect against an all-out infection, but at least it will protect against moderate or severe disease.”