On Thursday, Harris County Public Health announced the discovery of the COVID-19 variant B. 1.1.7. It is the same variant discovered in the U.K. and the first known case in the state of Texas.
"The variant has the potential to throw jet fuel on an already dangerous situation," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. "Please do not discount this."
The patient is a man between 30 and 40 years old and resides in southwest Harris County. Authorities say he's in isolation and his contacts are being traced. Officials also said he has no recent travel history.
READ MORE: 1st case of more contagious COVID-19 variant found in Harris County
"The fact that this person, who had the variant, does not have a travel history indicates it's present here in the community," explained Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a professor of infectious diseases at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
Ostrosky said there have been other variants in circulation since last spring. This one is getting attention because it is more contagious, but it's also not any worse, according to Dr. Wesley Long.
Long is a clinical pathologist and the medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist.
"The important thing for people to know, even if it is more contagious, the disease is no more severe," explained Long. "The outcomes in patients are no worse and there's nothing in particular different that we need to do to stop the spread of it. If we wear masks, social distance, avoid large gatherings, do those things, we can stop the spread of this virus in its tracks, regardless of the mutations."
Plus, time is of the essence, adds Ostrosky.
While the current COVID-19 vaccine is believed to work on the variant, he said the virus must be kept from further mutating.
"If we leave the situation unchecked, we will end up in a situation like influenza where we will likely need a new vaccine every year to cover the strain that year," he said. "This is almost a historical opportunity right now. If we control the virus, then that's not going to be an issue, but if we keep doing the things we're doing, we can end up in that situation."
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