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New coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa detected in child in Michigan

State officials say they've detected the first known case of a new coronavirus variant in Michigan.

The variant is called B.1.351and it was first discovered in South Africa last fall.
The new variant has been identified in a child in Jackson County.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials say the variant is believed to be more contagious. But they say there's no evidence it causes more severe disease compared to the original strain. 
In a press release, officials note the first cases caused by the B.1.351 variant were reported in the U.S. at the end of January 2021: 

B.1.351 is believed to be more contagious, but there has been no indication that it affects the clinical outcomes or disease severity compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months. Scientists are still evaluating how well COVID-19 vaccines work against this new variant. However, a higher rate of transmission could increase the number of people who need to be hospitalized or who lose their lives to COVID-19 should the new variant begin circulating widely in Michigan. To date, the virus has been identified in at least 20 other states and jurisdictions in the U.S. This is the only known case in Michigan at this time, however it is possible that there are more that have not been identified.

The MDHHS notes that current vaccines do work against this variant, B.1.351, though studies have shown vaccines to be somewhat less effective than against the original strain.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in ascience brief updated on Monday:

Preliminary evidence suggests that the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines may provide some protection against a variety of strains, including B.1.1.7 (originally identified in the United Kingdom). However, reduced antibody neutralization and efficacy have been observed for the B.1.351 strain (originally identified in South Africa).

The MDDHS says as of Monday, March 8, there are 516 cases of the U.K. (also known as B.1.1.7) variant in Michigan.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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