Stanford Studies New COVID-19 Strains in Search for Variants and Mutations

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New strains of the coronavirus are proving to be more contagious and possibly more deadly. To help, Stanford Hospital has started a new effort to identify known mutations and unknown variants.

“We are planning to screen all of our positives that come through the lab, this is slightly different than what public health labs have been doing,” said Stanford Doctor Benjamin Pinsky. “They tend to look at outbreaks.”

Researchers are testing for known variants like the one discovered in the U.K., a variant Britain's Prime Minister Borris Johnson now says could be linked to higher death rates.

“In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the Southeast, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” said Johnson.

Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, say vaccines remain effective.

“It appears the vaccine will be effective with the caveat you want to pay close attention,” he said.

Stanford started the screenings last week and plans to ramp up efforts in the coming days.

“The first step is identifying them and learning how prevalent they are in the Bay Area and globally,” said Pinsky, adding they are also looking for new mutations.

“This will allow us to evaluate for important considerations, whether they're more transmissible, they produce more disease and whether there is any impact on efficacy of vaccines,” said Pinsky.

Information public health officials will need as they continue to navigate the pandemic.

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