New R.1 COVID-19 variant detected in U.S. outbreak

A new variant of the COVID-19 virus infected 46 residents and staff in a Kentucky nursing home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first time the strain has been identified in the U.S.

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The variant, named R.1, is believed to have originated in Japan, and has infected more than 10,000 people globally.

While R.1 is not considered a variant of concern, according to Dr. William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor, it does have mutations that may increase “transmission, replication, and immune suppression.”

The World Health Organization lists three categories of COVID variants: variants of interest, variants of concern and variants of high consequence. The delta variant, which is far and away the main variant in the United States, is a variant of concern.

The R.1 variant is not on the WHO list of concern or interest.

Many of those infected at the Kentucky facility were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The outbreak took place in March.

Twenty-six residents and 20 staff members tested positive for the virus during the outbreak, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Of those who tested positive for the virus, 18 of the residents and four staff members were fully vaccinated.

While fully vaccinated people can contract the virus, according to CDC research the vaccinated residents at the facility were 87% less likely to have symptoms of the COVID virus compared to those who were unvaccinated.

Of the unvaccinated, infected residents at the facility, four were hospitalized. Three residents died, two of whom had not been vaccinated. One of those two had had a previous COVID-19 infection.

More than 229 million people have been infected by the COVID-19 virus and more than 4.55 million have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University.