First confirmed Indian COVID-19 variant in U.S. found in Bay Area

STANFORD, Calif. (KRON) — A new COVID-19 variant was identified and confirmed by Stanford Health Care last week.

Stanford Health Care Senior Manager of Media Relations Lisa Kim told NewsNation affiliate KRON the newly described “India” variant was identified and confirmed by the Clinic Virology Lab at Stanford Health Care last week.

Stanford believes it is the first case in the United States.

This variant has the L452R mutation, which has recently caused massive outbreaks in California, as well as another significant spike mutation, E484Q.  

One confirmed case was identified by sequencing at Stanford, while seven presumptive cases are being screened.

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It’s not known yet if this variant is more infectious or resistant to vaccine antibodies.

The Stanford researchers have started screening hundreds of viral samples collected from people across the Bay Area, with plans to ramp up significantly in the coming days. They also began sequencing whole viral genomes to identify new mutations as they arise in key viral proteins. 

“In most cases it is too early to say whether or how these variants will influence the course of the pandemic, but it is important to monitor their evolution and spread,” said Benjamin Pinsky, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and of infectious diseases at the School of Medicine. “Our surveillance testing is specifically designed to allow large-scale screening of viral samples to identify specific strains circulating in the Bay Area and throughout California.”

Pinsky is the medical director of the Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory. 

Last month, the Associated Press first confirmed the new virus that was detected in India.

The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells, said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of the 10 research institutes sequencing the virus.

He added that these genetic tweaks could be of concern since they might help the virus spread more easily and escape the immune system, but he cautioned against linking it to the surge.