AZDHS: UK COVID-19 variant detected in Arizona

Officials with the Arizona Department of Health Services say a variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in the United Kingdom has now been detected in Arizona.

According to a statement released on Jan. 29, officials say they have detected the B.1.1.7 variant in three test samples from the state.

"It isn't known how widely the variant may have spread in Arizona," read a portion of the statement released by AZDHS.

According to the CDC's website, the B.1.1.7 variant, also known by the names 20I/501Y.V1 and VOC 202012/01, emerged with a large number of mutations, and this variant can be spread more rapidly. It was first reported in the U.S. at the end of December 2020.

Officials with AZDHS say it is typical for viruses to change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.

This UK variant is covered by the vaccine just as much as the regular strain of the virus that has been in the U.S. for over a year now.

Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association says, "The good news is the UK variant is completely covered by the vaccines, just like the classic strains we have had in the U.S. The bad news is that it is more transmissible."

He believes this particular variant of the virus has been in the U.S. and in Arizona for a while, adding, that if you end up getting a positive COVID-19 test, no doctor is going to tell you what strain of the virus you have.

Only certain labs have the ability to do the sequencing required to make that distinction. He says a small number of positive cases are being sent to locations like the Arizona State University laboratory and TGen North in Flagstaff to test for variants of the virus.

"The only way to do that is to do detailed genetic sequencing and it’s not something that is clinically important either, honestly," Humble said.

While tracking the variants of the virus is undoubtedly important from an epidemiologist's perspective, Humble says, it doesn’t make much difference to a patient because the treatment plan is the same.

Humble says case numbers will most likely stay high right now, but he says that with the elderly already getting vaccinated, what might end up happening is that those new positive cases will be among those less vulnerable.

He also believes the death rate, overall, will decline, saying, "If it is solely circulating in 20, 30, 40 year olds, you are going to see public health improvement even if you don’t see a decline in cases overall."

As of the afternoon of Jan. 30, AZDHS says 629,845 doses have been administered.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)