UK covid variant found in La Crosse County

Through genome sequencing Gundersen has found five cases of B-117 between La Crosse County and two nearby counties
Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 4:58 AM CDT
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A common question asked after a positive covid test is ‘How did I get it?’ The way to find the answer-- genome sequencing.

“A genome is basically the instruction manual that you use to make a human, or a flower, a fish, or a dog, or a coronavirus,” said Dr. Paraic Kenny, Kabara Cancer Research Institute director.

Gundersen Health System has been genome sequencing the coronavirus for the last 12 months, repurposing machines typically used for research in cancer cells.

“Up until September we were sequencing absolutely every single person who tested positive for the coronavirus at our facility,” Kenny explained.

On average, scientists have sequenced one in every four positive tests in the Gundersen’s diagnostic lab-- a much higher average than the rest of the country according to Dr. Kenny.

Each sequence takes three days to complete.

“We can map out all of the mutations that have been inquired all the way back to Wuhan,” added Kenny.

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities were traced back to college of students returning in La Crosse last fall through sequencing.

It also has been crucial in identifying new strains of covid including five cases of B-117 or the UK variant between La Crosse County and two other nearby counties.

“The viruses arrived in this country most prominently in Florida and California,” said Kenny. “We’ve really seen it take over there and get a handle in those regions as well, probably doubling its presence every nine days.”

The new variant is easily transmitable which requires greater social distancing and increased precautions.

“It seems really clear that this is a genuinely concerning variant with new properties that were not really present in the original covid-19 strain,” Kenny said.

Other variants have also been identified by the lab, however, the South Africa variant is not in La Crosse yet.

“Another big concern is whether some of these sub-strains allow escape from some of our vaccines that we’ve been deploying.”

Dr. Kenny says research shows vaccines are effective against the UK variant.

The way to slow the spread is the same as the original strain.

“The real tragedy about this covid-19 pandemic is that we’ve been slow learners and fast forgetters,” Kenny reminded.

He recommends washing your hands, wearing a mask, social distancing, and getting the covid vaccine when eligible.

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