March 9, 2021

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Researchers in California are expressing concern over a COVID-19 variant in the state, which the Los Angeles Times reports appears “increasingly dangerous.”

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco examined the B.1.427/B.1.429 COVID-19 variant spreading in California, and they say that it “not only spreads more readily than its predecessors, but also evades antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection and it’s associated with severe illness and death,” the Los Angeles Times writes.

The researchers warned that the variant should be viewed as a “variant of concern” like others from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

“The devil is already here,” warned Dr. Charles Chiu, who led the new analysis. “I wish it were different. But the science is the science.”

The California strain reportedly appears to reduce the effect of neutralizing antibodies by a factor of two, compared to a factor of 6.2 for the South Africa strain. The study also suggests it “could have greater virulence,” the Times writes, noting the researchers looked at 324 hospitalized patients’ medical charts and found that those infected with the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant were more likely to be admitted to the ICU, as well as more likely to die. Still, Chiu said this could potentially be a result of hospitals being overwhelmed due to the increased transmissibility of the variant, rather than the variant itself being more deadly.

Separately, another study that hasn’t yet been published pointed to a “modest, but meaningful, difference” of almost 10 percent in the chance of becoming infected if a household member has the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant versus another variant, The New York Times reports.

At the same time, cardiologist Eric Topol on Tuesday pushed back on labeling the California variant “increasingly dangerous” at this stage, noting, “there isn’t even a preprint published and we’re watching dramatic descent in cases, hospitalization and deaths despite its high frequency.” California’s and San Francisco County’s public health departments are reportedly reviewing the new analysis. Brendan Morrow

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