MUSC doctor suspects S. African COVID-19 variant is more prevalent than data shows
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Health officials confirm the nation’s first cases of the South African strain of COVID-19 have been found in South Carolina.
One case was reported in an individual from the Lowcountry and another in an individual from the Pee Dee, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
However, some doctors believe there could be more unidentified cases spreading across the state.
“With no connection to each other, you have to assume these individuals got it from somebody else, so there are other people out there that likely have this infection,” MUSC’s Dr. Krutika Kuppalli said.
Kuppalli said she’s also concerned other variants, like one originating in the United Kingdom are already in South Carolina, though no cases have been confirmed at this point.
“We still haven’t found cases of the B117 variant…but all the states around us have cases, so that makes me suspicious we probably have that variant in South Carolina as well,” Kuppalli said.
These variants are known to spread more easily than the original COVID-19 strain, but it’s not yet clear how.
“The concern with it being able to spread more quickly is that would lead to more people getting infected, and then downstream the problem of more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths. Then, of course, that leading to increased burden on our healthcare system that has already been burdened with patients over the past year,” Kuppalli said.
DHEC health officials said Thursday it’s still too early to predict what community spread may look like, but Kuppalli says it’s critical these variants are contained.
“We know the vaccines appear to work for this strain, but we need to think about the long-term repercussions. If we keep getting variants because there’s pressure on this virus, eventually we are going to have problems with these vaccines,” Kuppalli said.
DHEC has not yet responded to requests for information on how many samples the agency is currently testing for the variants.
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