June Leffler Published

U.K. Coronavirus Variant Spreading Through W. Va.

An illustration of the variant found in the United Kingdom. To infect a cell, the virus's spike protein (red) has to bind to a receptor on the cell's surface (blue). Mutations help the virus bind more tightly.

So far more than 140 cases of the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus have been detected in West Virginia. Many were found in border counties like Berkeley, Monongalia and Ohio. Kanawha County reported its first case of the variant Wednesday.

State health officials say the U.K. variant is twice as contagious and twice as deadly as the virus originating in Wuhan, China.

Officials also point to the variant as a reason to accelerate vaccinations for young people. State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said Wednesday younger, “more sociable” West Virginians are contributing to the spread of this variant. Data from the Department of Health and Human Resources say 20 percent of UK variant cases in the state occurred in those 20 to 29 years old.

The state is partnering with West Virginia universities and the CDC to see how prevalent the variant is. These groups are testing, or sequencing, about 1,300 coronavirus specimens a week.

The first cases of the variant were found in West Virginia in late February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday the U.K. variant is now the most common strain of the coronavirus in the U.S.