ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned that the Department of Public Health has identified at least 18 cases of a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 across Georgia.
All of the cases are a form of the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. The state reported the first case of the UK variant in the state on Jan. 5.
There are many variants currently circulating around the world, but health experts are primarily concerned with the emergence of three.
The UK variant was discovered late last year and has been detected in dozens of countries since. Health officials initially said it didn’t seem to cause more severe symptoms, but some newer information suggests it might — no conclusion can be drawn at the moment. It does appear to spread more easily, which could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
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The variant might become dominant in the U.S. by March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other variants first detected in South Africa and in Brazil also appear more contagious, experts say.
Health officials in South Carolina announced Thursday that the mutated version of the virus first identified in South Africa was found in two cases there.
Data so far suggest current vaccines should still protect against these variants, though there’s some concern their effectiveness may be slightly diminished. There is also evidence that some antibody treatments may be less effective against certain variants.
The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.