New COVID-19 strain arrives in U.S., how RGV health authorities are planning

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FILE – In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Medical personnel watch over COVID-19 patients in a serious infection disease unit created at DHR Health, in McAllen,Texas. Texas surpassed 10,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths Monday as the lingering toll of a massive summer outbreak continues, and health experts worry that recent encouraging trends could be fragile as schools begin reopening for 5 million students across the state. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — A new strain of COVID-19 has been detected and is causing concern that the disease could mutate further.

The fact that COVID-19 mutated is itself not an immediate cause for alarm. RNA viruses like COVID-19 often make mistakes when replicating themselves, causing a new, mutated, form of the virus.

“This virus, a new variant of it pops up every couple of weeks,” said Dr. James Castillo, the Cameron County Health Authority.

The newest strain of COVID-19 is referred to as ‘B-117’. It was first detected in the United Kingdom, and has since gone international.

So far, none of the COVID-19 positive cases in the Rio Grande Valley have been positive with the B-117 strain, but “a case was detected in Colorado, in a person who had not traveled, so it’s already in the U.S.,” according to Castillo.

Since the B-117 strain of COVID-19 is so new, nothing about it is certain, but there’s a good chance it doesn’t have deadlier symptoms than the original strain of COVID-19.

The danger with COVID-19 B-117 is it appears to be more contagious than the original strain.

An image of the Covid-19 virus, with the red spike proteins clearly visible. Source: CDC website.

“You look at this model, these little red things are the spike proteins,” explained Castillo. “That’s the key for the virus to get into the body. And it looks like it may have developed a better key.”

The virus becoming more contagious is actually potentially more dangerous than if the virus had mutated to become more deadly.

Currently, the entire United States, and particularly Texas, is seeing a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients having to go to the hospital.

Hospitals are in danger of being overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU, leaving no open beds for other people who need hospital care for non-COVID reasons, such as heart attacks and strokes.

You can view the number of COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals for every Trauma Service Area here.

One of the biggest dangers people face is transmitting the disease to a family member. A large number of people do not follow CDC guidelines around members of their own family, which can put entire family groups in danger if one person contracts COVID-19.

The family transmission rate is around 25 percent.

“In other words, if somebody in the household catches it, there’s a 25 percent chance that someone in the household will catch it now,” said Castillo.

Castillo said there was some good news emerging about the new strain.

“It’s not looking like people who have had Covid are getting re-infected with this new version,” said Castillo. “And its looking like that the vaccine will be protective against this version as well.”

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