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New COVID-19 strain found in Colorado

Health officials believe it could already be widespread in the U.S.

Photo (c) Peter Zelei - Getty Images
The new strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19), first identified in the United Kingdom, has reached American shores.

The first official case of the mutant virus has been confirmed by health officials in Colorado. The patient was identified only as a male in his 20s. Significantly, he had no recent travel history -- suggesting there are likely other cases of the virus.

Health experts say the mutant version of the COVID-19 virus does not cause more severe symptoms than the original virus, but it is concerning because it spreads even faster than the original.

"In addition to the reported case in Colorado, we expect that there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days," a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Health told CBS News.

Laboratories across the U.S. are on the lookout for other examples of the new strain as they process COVID-19 tests. The new strain has been given a name -- B.1.1.7.

Contact tracing

State health officials in Colorado are conducting contact tracing for the patient who is infected with the mutant virus. They say that process has yet to produce results that would explain how he got infected. The young man is reported to be in isolation to prevent further spread.

The mutant strain was identified through a process called “sequencing,” in which labs more closely examine and break down positive test results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 51,000 of the 17 million cases in the U.S. have been sequenced.

For that reason, they say it is very likely that the variant is fairly widespread in the U.S. In fact, it could be partially responsible for the current surge in coronavirus cases.

Even though it is a mutant version of the original virus, it may not be harder to prevent. Both Moderna and Pfizer have said they are confident their vaccines, currently being distributed in the U.S., will be effective in preventing B.1.1.7.

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