New R.1 Covid Variant Detected In U.S. Outbreak; First Identified In Japan

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While the Delta variant’s dominance in the United States is nearly universal, news of another spreading strain of Covid-19 has recently surfaced.

Known as R.1, the new variant was first found stateside in Kentucky which, according to Governor Andy Beshear, is among the three states with the highest infection rates. R.1 was first identified via an outbreak at a skilled nursing facility there.

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According to a CDC report, among 83 residents and 116 healthcare workers, 26 residents and 20 workers tested positive for Covid. Twenty eight specimens were subjected to whole genome sequencing and, on March 1, found to have mutations that aligned with the R.1 lineage. (The outbreak reportedly began with an infected staffer.) “Attack rates were three to four times as high among unvaccinated residents and [workers] as among those who were vaccinated,” according to the findings.

Roughly 90% of the facility’s residents and and 52% of the staff had received 2 vaccine doses. Among those, 25.4% of the residents and 7.1% of the workers were infected. That, according the CDC analyses, raises concerns about reduced protective immunity to R.1 from vaccines.

What’s more, four possible reinfections were identified, “providing some evidence of limited or waning natural immunity to this variant,” per the report. All of those people experienced symptomatic illness. One of them died.

While the CDC does not define R.1 as a variant of concern or interest yet, the strain does have several “mutations of importance.” One of those “demonstrates evidence of increasing virus transmissibility,” according to the agency. Others have also been seen in variants of concern which, according to the CDC, “show evidence of reduced neutralization by convalescent and postvaccination sera. Another mutation seen in R.1 might reduce the effectiveness of neutralizing antibodies.”

The good news is that, despite the breakthrough infections, vaccination was associated with decreased likelihood of infection and symptomatic illness among both patients and staff. Furthermore, R.1 does not seem to be outcompeting — and thus be more transmissible than — Delta. As of April 22, the CDC indicated just 1,125 cases of R.1 in the U.S. According to Forbes, there are now over 10,000 recorded instances of the variant. But those numbers pale in comparison to the millions of Delta cases.

R.1 was first identified in Japan in January 2021 among three members of one family. One of those infected was in their 40s and the other two were under 10 years old. “These three patients were living in Japan and had no history of traveling abroad,” according to an NIH report.

As of April 22, 2021, the NIH analysis states that “the percentage of SARS-CoV-2 isolates belonging to the R.1 lineage in Japan increased more rapidly” than it did in the U.S.

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