First cases of South African COVID-19 strain found in US

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The first two US cases of the South African variant of COVID-19 have been found in South Carolina, health officials said Thursday.

“The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, the interim public health director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said in a release.

The virus variant —  known as the B1351 strain and thought to be a greater risk than the UK variant  —  was discovered in a sample tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notified state health officials late Wednesday.

The state’s health department also discovered the virus in a second sample earlier in the week.

Both of the patients are adults — one from the state’s Lowcountry region and one from the Pee Dee region, according to officials.

It wasn’t immediately clear how they contracted the strain.

“There is currently no known travel history and no connection between these two cases,” the release said.

Experts still don’t know how effective existing vaccines are against the South African strain.

The state’s health department has been testing random samples to find possible variants of COVID-19 since June.

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