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South African COVID-19 variant detected in Wisconsin

There have been no cases of the South African strain found in Minnesota.

The Wisconsin Department of Health has confirmed it has identified its first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and "laboratory partners" identified the variant, which is believed to be more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, though hasn't specified where it was found.

It's the second variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, found in Wisconsin, with the other being the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant, of which there have been 26 confirmed cases.

One of the concerns about the South African variant is that it has the potential to elude immune responses in some of those who have already had COVID, or who have been vaccinated.

Moderna and Pfizer are currently testing booster shots to target variants such as B.1.351, but the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine already offers 57% efficacy at preventing infection from the variant.

While it's more contagious, there's no indication yet that the variant causes more serious COVID-19.

There have been no cases of the B.1.351 variant detected in Minnesota, however the state did have America's first cases of the P.1 variant that was first detected in Brazil, it's also currently seeing an outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant in Carver County.

"It is important to remember that new variants are expected to occur over time. Here in Wisconsin, whole genome sequencing of positive specimens from COVID-19 cases is done on a regular basis, said Wisconsin DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.

"Because these variants may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, mask wearing, staying home, physically distancing, and washing your hands continues to be crucial."

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