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5 Things to Know About Mutant Virus B.1.1.7

Updated | Published
Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Another Mutant Virus is on the Loose! What You Need to Know

As if Covid-19 were not bad enough, it has spawned mutant viruses. One of the new variants  causing extreme concern is B.1.1.7. 

5 Things to Know About Mutant Virus B.1.1.7

New and Unusual Variant 

It first emerged in the U.K. in September 2020. Despite widespread restrictions, officials noted that cases continued to increase in the southeastern corner of the country, in Kent, at the same time cases were decreasing in other parts of the U.K. 

B.1.1.7 has since been identified in 30 plus countries and here at home in Colorado, California and Florida. But it’s now popping up in the U.S. faster than this author can write and publish this article.

Virus mutations occur all the time. It’s normal and expected for viruses to mutate. The more they replicate, the more they mutate. Viruses mutate to escape immunity. Once inside a body (host) cell, viruses replicate themselves, by copying their own genes.

During the replication, genetic changes can take place. These genetic changes are essentially copying errors. The B.1.1.7 variant has an unusual and surprisingly high number of mutations - around 17, which is concerning.

At least one of these new mutations has made the virus more contagious, even though scientists have yet to learn how. Some structural changes (mutations) to the surface proteins can make the virus more efficient at binding to host cells and this is one possibility. What’s widely agreed is B.1.1.7 has found a way to maximize transmissibility. It spreads very quickly.

While the CDC responded by mandating that visitors from the UK show proof of a negative test within 72 hours of beginning their trip, the cat was already out of the bag. B.1.1.7 is clearly circulating here. Some of the people in the U.S. who tested positive for B.1.1.7 had no recent history of travel, so it’s assumed the cases were community-acquired.

For scientists, epidemiologists, and all of us, the key questions include:

  • How fast does it spread?
  • How does the disease present?
  • Are vaccines effective? Can it evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity?

Not More Severe

At this time, the CDC says there’s no evidence that B.1.1.7 causes more deaths, or even more severe cases. The route of transmission has not changed. While this is good news, it’s tempered by the fact that it’s believed to be more transmissible.

Higher transmissibility ultimately causes more deaths than higher severity. It’s also a possibility children and teenagers will be more susceptible to the new mutation.

More Contagious

While more and more sources are warning that B.1.1.7 is significantly more contagious than the parent Covid-19 virus, some epidemiologists are putting a number to it.  It's been estimated that B.1.1.7 has an increased transmission rate of 50 percent.

Why is a higher transmission rate worse than higher severity?

Increased transmission portends for another big wave with exponential ramifications. Higher severity is linear, meaning it affects each person who is infected, while higher transmissibility is not linear, but exponential. 

If 10 persons infected with Covid-19 are predicted to infect 11 people, that’s a reproduction rate of 1.1.  But if 10 persons infected with B.1.1.7 are predicted to infect 15 people, that’s a reproduction rate of 1.5.  And those 15 people will go on to infect 22.5 people. Being more contagious means more infections across our country and globally. 

The death toll will be higher by sheer force of number.

B.1.1.7 could be more contagious because it incubates faster, or makes infected persons infectious sooner, or latches on to receptor sites more easily, or has a higher viral load...scientists just don’t know yet. For whatever reason or reasons, it infects more people, given the same environment.

Viral Load 

One theory suggests a heightened viral load. A heightened viral load means people are carrying more virus particles in their noses and respiratory tracts. The more virus particles infected people harbor in their upper respiratory tracts, the more they expel the virus when they talk, sing, cough, laugh, sneeze. 

This could mean you could spend less time in close contact with an infected person and become infected with more of the virus.

Doesn’t Evade Vaccine

There’s no evidence that B.1.1.7 evades the vaccines, which is excellent news. Scientists will pull antibodies from patients and test to see if those antibodies neutralize the new variant to confirm.

Slowed by Current Precautions

What can slow the rate is distancing and masking.

Now that we have the vaccine, and there’s no evidence that the variant virus is resistant, we have to push forward and maintain social restrictions to achieve herd immunity.

Social distancing, face masks, hand hygiene and ventilation are the weapons to fight this.  Following safe practices is more important than ever.

Be safe and help educate yourselves and others.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

References

1. New corona virus may have been in U.S. since October. theguardian.com. Jan. 1 2020. New coronavirus variant may have been in US since October Accessed Jan. 3 2020.

2. Hauck, Grace. More contagious COCID-19 strain identified in 3 states and 33 countries: What to know. USAtoday.com. Jan. 2, 2021. More contagious COVID-19 strain identified in 3 states and 33 countries: What to know Accessed Jan.2, 2021.

3. Doucleff, Michaeleen. What we know about the U.K. variant-and what we need to find out. npr.org. Dec.22, 2020. What We Know About The New U.K. Variant Of Coronavirus — And What We Need To Find Out Dec. 22, 2020. Accessed Jan. 2 2021.

Nurse Beth, author of "First Year Nurse" and the bestselling "How to Land Your First Nursing Job...and your next!"

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10 Comment(s)

tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Thank you, Nurse Beth, for providing this valuable and timely information that will affect us in the next wave of the Pandemic.  

GrumpyRN, NP

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 39 years experience.

And just to complete your day the South African variant has arrived...

Quote

"The new variant, referred to as 501.V2, was discovered by a network of scientists around South Africa who have been tracking the genetics of the SARS-COV-2 virus."

Explainer: The new coronavirus variant in South Africa - Are concerns justified?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 variant from South Africa identified in UK

Sadly, if we have it, you will have it soon.

GrumpyRN, NP

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 39 years experience.

11 minutes ago, Nurse Beth said:

Thanks, Grumpy, and I hear this one may be considered worse than B.1.1.7

Unfortunately I can't find anything from a scientific source yet but this is from the BBC;

"Both the new South African and UK 'Kent' variants appear to be more contagious, which is a problem because tougher restrictions on society may be needed to control the spread.

While changes in the new UK variant are unlikely to harm the effectiveness of current vaccines, there is a chance those in the South African variant may do so to some extent, say scientists."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55534727

 

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Can't recall where I read it- I'll look it up- but one source said it has around 30 mutations, compared to B.1.1.7's 17 

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in Women's Health/OB Leadership. Has 15 years experience.

There was an article yesterday in Becker's on the South Africa variant. The concern was that this variant has a change in the spike protein, which will likely affect vaccine efficacy.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

57 minutes ago, klone said:

There was an article yesterday in Becker's on the South Africa variant. The concern was that this variant has a change in the spike protein, which will likely affect vaccine efficacy.

that's terrifying

NurseSpeedy, ADN, LPN, RN

Has 18 years experience.

1 hour ago, klone said:

There was an article yesterday in Becker's on the South Africa variant. The concern was that this variant has a change in the spike protein, which will likely affect vaccine efficacy.

At this point we will probably all get something and live through it or go crazy trying to avoid it. Been in quarantine since March. Hubby works for OR equipment manufacturer. He went in for a repair today. They had to move him to another room due to a trauma case. Then they started trying to role dead bodies into the room. That’s when he said he was calling it a day and hopes to not have a any visitors when he finishes the job tomorrow. Outside-a two mile long line for those to get the vaccine since the hospital had a surplus-some workers rejected the vaccine so it was going out to the community. I just hope they are careful since there are bound to be some resistant forms that emerge. Vaccines don’t make us bullet proof-they just hopefully help us survive it with a better outcome than if we didn’t have them.

maryellen12

Specializes in RN BN PG Dip. Has 21 years experience.

One question - if the virus continues to mutate will herd immunity ever be achievable? 

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

On 1/16/2021 at 12:20 PM, maryellen12 said:

One question - if the virus continues to mutate will herd immunity ever be achievable? 

So far the vaccines are effective in the mutant viruses