KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan health officials are on the lookout for coronavirus variants after more cases of the B.1.1.7 strain were announced Monday.
Four cases have been confirmed in Calhoun County with three cases in the same family. Kent and Van Buren counties announced one case each over the weekend.
Kalamazoo County first announced a case last week and now has added three more to the total. One case has been confirmed in Eaton County, in addition to the first cases in Michigan that were identified in the Detroit area.
Dr. Richard Van Enk, the director of infection prevention and epidemiology with Bronson Healthcare, says the U.K. variant could lead to an increase in cases.
“This virus strain seems to be more efficient at spreading than the previous strains,” Van Enk said.
Van Enk says the variant will become more common.
“Overtime, it will take over. It will out compete the other strains and become the dominant strain. The fact that we’ve seen this strain across several counties now in West Michigan means it’s been here for a while,” Van Enk said.
The severity of the symptoms are not believed to be more intense with the U.K. variant and the treatments given to patients have not changed.
“We manage these patients the same way in the hospital, so there is no reason for us in the hospital to know which strain it is,” Van Enk said.
Knowing the prevalence of the strain is important for overall virus surveillance and for pharmaceutical manufacturers to study the impact the variant could have on the effectiveness of their vaccines.
“They’re analyzing them and they’re getting future versions of their vaccines ready in case they’re needed,” Van Enk said.
According to Van Enk, people may have to get a booster shot to increase protection against variants.
“I’m not anticipating that we have to get a new one every year like flu, but we might have to get two,” Van Enk said.
The South African variant has many doctors concerned because initial data shows the vaccines may not be as effective against it and the strain poses a potential risk for reinfection.
“We’re assuming that once you’ve had COVID, you have some protection and if that’s less true with that strain, it just makes it hard to reach heard immunity,” Van Enk said.
Van Enk says reinfection is currently very rare and if someone did get the virus a second time, the symptoms would likely be less intense.
“It is true that the more the strains mutate, the more distance there might be between the earlier one and the late one, and the more chances of reinfection,” Van Enk said.
He says wearing masks and social distancing is likely to be needed for some time and having the fastest possible immunization rate is crucial.
“If we don’t immunize people fast enough and we don’t achieve herd immunity, then this pandemic is just going to go on and on for months and months,” Van Enk said.