COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Researchers from Ohio State University said two new strains of COVID-19 have been identified in central Ohio, bringing with it new questions about how it could impact those across the state.
Those researchers said that mutations of the COVID-19 virus are expected and have been studied since the pandemic began last March.
“All along, we have been looking for variations, and this is normal for a virus to mutate,” said Dr. Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study and Chief Scientific Officer at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “This is not a new finding, viruses do mutate.”
Doctors discovered two new strains of the virus right here in Columbus.
The first is a strain similar to the one already found in South Africa and the U.K.; the second is a new strain not yet identified anywhere in the U.S.
“Both of these findings relate to a U.S. based strain called the ’20G’ strain, but there are differences besides the core elements of the 20G strain,” explains Dr. Dan Jones, vice chairman of the Division of Molecular Pathology.
The findings now lead to several questions going forward. Like whether current testing procedures can effectively identify the new strains.
“This is sequencing, so this is a special test that needs to be done and the PCR test alone would not alone reveal the presence of these mutations,” Jones describes.
Certain PCR levels can help researchers identify which tests to study in the future.
“There is some suggestion from some other variants that you may be able to do it by how positive the PCR is in the initial test,” Jones said. “So we are actually looking at that issue now and seeing if that’s helpful in identifying which patients we should sequence going forward.”
Another question for central Ohioans is how might the new variants impact those previously infected with COVID-19?
“Single changes in the virus generally, by our knowledge in the past, do not lead to loss of protection against a related virus,” Jones said.
Though similar variants are evolving across many states nationwide, experts say the previously unidentified strain has quickly become the dominant strain locally in the last month.
“Different states are reporting different viruses emerging,” Jones said. “These are common mutations occurring in different strain backgrounds, so that’s telling us likely these are independent, arising of the same mutations in different places.”
“It’s important we sort of understand the full zip code, versus just understanding a single address when we think about what does a virus do,” Mohler warns. “It’s also important to understand if the vaccine is going to continue to be effective. To date we have no data that the vaccine will not be effective on these viral strains.”