The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is currently monitoring a second mutated strain of coronavirus even more infectious than the one already gripping the UK after it was discovered in South Africa.
The new variant, which is feared to be driving a surge of infections among young people, is behind a powerful second wave of the virus in South Africa.
The strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus.
British health authorities revealed on Wednesday that the variant, which is called 501Y.V2 and was discovered in South Africa last Friday, has already spread to the UK.
A CDC spokesperson told DailyMail.com the agency is aware of the situation and is monitoring the implications for the United States.
They could not confirm if the South African strain has been detected in the US yet.
A hospital nurse performs a coronavirus test in Johannesburg last Friday on the same day the new COVID-19 variation was announced. The new variant, which is feared to be driving a surge of infections among young people, is behind a powerful second wave of the virus in South Africa
Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel and Mauritius have already banned flights from South Africa off the back of the news in an effort to stop the spread of the mutant.
It is not yet clear if the US will instigate any sort of flight ban.
South African Airways stopped operating commercial flights between New York and Johannesburg since April.
It comes as at least 3,401 Americans died on Tuesday, which is the second highest daily death toll throughout the pandemic.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus has also hit a new record with 117,777 patients currently being treated across the country. Meanwhile, 195,033 new infections were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day rolling average for new cases to 214,000.
Cases in South Africa have soared from fewer than 3,000 a day at the start of December to more than 9,500 per day, with the mutant accounting for up to 90 percent of those new infections.
The South African strain is the second coronavirus mutation found in as many weeks.
Scientists first discovered the new South African variant back in mid-October and it became the country’s dominant strain by the beginning of November, research shows.
South African Health minister Zweli Mkhize has said the new strain appears to spread faster and already appears to be linked to higher rates of severe illness in younger people who test positive.
Two cases of that variant have already been detected in the UK in people who had traveled from South Africa in recent weeks.
The two cases were discovered in separate parts of Britain through random routine sampling, which picks out only around one in 10 tests carried out.
The fact that they were detected through random sampling and that they are thought to have been infected by separate travelers suggests there are many more cases of the variant already in Britain.
It has prompted fears the variant may have already spread to the US.
Tulio de Oliveira, a researcher who is part of the South African team who discovered the new variant, told CBS News that the two variants found in the UK and South Africa are ‘very different’.
‘They do not have a common origin, but they have a few similarities. Both of them have a key mutation in the spike glycoprotein that allows the spike protein, most probably, to bind better to the cells and enter the body,’ de Oliveira said.
‘Both of us, in South Africa and the UK, believe that this lineage is much more transmissible than the previous lineage. And we are trying to study that as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
‘We have to almost take an approach similar to many of the South Asian and Asian and Oceania countries that tried to stop transmission and tried to stop transmission when it starts, reacting very strongly to a small number of cases.
‘So what happened in South Africa, in the UK, in the United States, or Brazil, is we have been leaving this virus circulating at relatively low or high level and trying to learn to live with the virus. But maybe the virus is beginning to outsmart us.’
There were 195,033 new infections recorded on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day rolling average for new cases to 214,000
At least 3,401 Americans died on Tuesday, which is the second highest daily toll after December 16 when just 3,600 deaths were recorded. The nationwide seven-day average for daily deaths now stands at 2,702, which is the highest ever recorded
Researchers studying the new strain of coronavirus that is currently moving through the UK, which is now known as B.1.1.7, have already said it is likely it came to the US in November and that hundreds of Americans could already be infected.
Of the UK strain, Dr Anthony Fauci said: ‘You really need to assume it ‘s here already. It’s certainly not the dominant strain but I would not be surprised at all if it’s already here.’
The CDC said in a scientific brief posted on its website on Tuesday that the UK COVID strain hasn’t yet been identified through sequencing efforts in the US.
The UK coronavirus variant has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a scientific brief posted on its website Tuesday.
Only about 51,000 of the US’ 17 million cases have been sequenced so far, the agency warned.
‘Ongoing travel between the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the high prevalence of this variant among current UK infections, increase the likelihood of importation,’ the CDC said.
‘Given the small fraction of US infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.’
In a bid to better track coronavirus variants in the US, the CDC plans to start receiving 10 samples from every state from January every second week so it can analyze them.