Lowcountry doctors suspect many more cases of the South African COVID-19 variant


CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Lowcountry health leaders are responding to the latest discovery of 2 South African COVID-19 variant cases in the state. However, many think the actual number of cases is much higher than 2.

The SC Department of Health and Environmental control confirmed that one of the cases was found in the Lowcountry and the other was in the Pee Dee region.

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician from the Medical University of South Carolina says the state needs to increase testing for these mutations.

“These 2 individuals didn’t have any contact with eachother — they have no links to eachother — so that makes me concerned that there are more people in the community with this particular strain,” she says.

DHEC officials say there is no evidence at this time to suggest that the South African Variant (B.1.351) causes more severe illness. That said, medical experts across the globe claim this specific strain of the virus spreads more easily.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, SCDHEC’s Interim Director of Public Health, says they have been running these routine tests to check for variants of the virus since last june.

“I think at this point in time we have limited information to go off of with just 2 cases being confirmed…I do wanna point out that there are numerous other labs that are doing sequencing including many of the large national labs that many specimens from South Carolina get sent to,” she says.

This South African strain is different from the UK variant (B.1.1.7.) that is popping up in different southern states. Dr. Kuppalli says it is hard to believe South Carolina doesn’t have any cases of that variant.

“You know, we still haven’t seen any cases of the B.1.1.7. variant but if you look at where those cases are — you know, Georgia has cases — NC has cases, all the states around us have cases. So that makes me suspicious that we probably have cases of that variant in SC as well,” she says.

The good news is, medical experts are trusting in the efficacy of the 2 vaccines on the market in America. They say both the Pfizer and Moderna shots will likely protect individuals from both these variants, but they aren’t perfect.

“The vaccine is not a golden bullet. we have to use the vaccine with all the other public health measures we’ve been talking about for the last year if we’re going to get this pandemic under control,” says Dr. Kuppalli.

DHEC officials say the 2 individuals who caught the South African variant are doing well and are no longer symptomatic.

They are planning to continue working with the CDC to watch out for COVID-19 variants. Public health officials will provide more information as it becomes available.

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