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New COVID-19 variant discovered at Texas A&M, researchers studying its mutations

Posted at 6:41 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 10:19:19-04

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — Variants of the virus seem to make headlines pretty often during the pandemic.. So when new ones emerge in our own backyard, should we panic?

Researchers say, It's not 'nothing', but it's not something you should lose sleepover.

".....what we are doing is flipping over rocks, and when you flip over enough rocks, you are going to find some weird bugs. This is definitely one of them. Finding it early is the best way to stop this and we think we did find this one quite early," Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M, Dr. Ben Neuman, said.

A new variant recently discovered within the A&M community is known as BV-1. B.V. for Brazos Valley, where this new variant originated.

"We want this to be at the top of the call list if we do find another one like this or have someone connected to this group because this is one that we don't want to get out there and to do well within the world. We don't want to give it a chance," Dr. Neuman said.

Although only found in 1 individual, with mild symptoms, scientists at the Texas A&M University Global Health Research Complex identified this new variant with implications that could present a new challenge to public health.

"Everything you pick up now is going to be a little different than anything that has ever been found. We are far enough along that there are a lot of these things out there," Dr. Ben Neuman, Virologist at Texas A&M said.

Some students say while it is concerning, it's important that we get ahead of it and stay there.

"The virus is adapting to the vaccine, so we are going to have to keep adapting to the virus. It's going to be crazy. It's going to be a long haul. This is not over," Scout Reynolds, a Junior at A M said.

The detection came from a saliva sample taken from a Texas A&M student as part of the university's ongoing COVID-19 testing program, which concerns many.

"Because you know COVID is not fun... So hearing it's a new variant is an issue especially coming from such a big campus," Nura Mogharrabi, a Freshman at A&M said.

Dr. Neuman says the saliva testing on campus goes through the building where he works and any positives, symptomatic or not, young or old, they take a full genome sequence on them.

"Alot of people, right now, are only sequencing strains that look like they've killed somebody or have done something that seems noteworthy, but all of these new variants come from somewhere and they lurk in parts of the population and so we are trying to find them before they become a problem," Dr. Ben Neuman said.

Students express their appreciation and confidence within their university, leadership, and researchers on how A&M continues to do its part to keep everyone safe.

"I think Texas A&M has done a really great job at preventing the spread of COVID and making sure that students stay safe and ensuring social distancing. I am sure that if it's a threat, especially if the antibodies, we are getting vaccines for, A&M will take the precautions necessary for the future," Lillian Cantrell, a Junior at A&M said.

Dr. Neuman says when they find this again they will know what it is and will be able to track down where it is to prevent it from spreading.

"It's probably going to be resistant to some of the antibodies we would use to treat it and that may make it a little vaccine-resistant. It's essentially the same sort of mutation as you find in the South Africa strain and that's the effect that it has in that and in some of the lab tests that have been done in other places," Dr. Neuman said.

According to the University, "GHRC first detected BV-1 in a saliva sample taken from a Texas A&M student as part of the university’s ongoing COVID-19 testing program. The sample tested positive at GHRC on March 5. It was re-tested and confirmed at a federally regulated lab at CHI St. Joseph Regional Hospital. The student resides off-campus but is active in on-campus organizations. The student was given Texas A&M’s general reporting guidelines. The student later provided a second sample that tested positive on March 25, indicating the variant may cause a longer-lasting infection than is typical of COVID-19 for adults ages 18-24. A third sample obtained on April 9 was negative and revealed no evidence of the virus. The student presented mild cold-like symptoms in early to mid-March that never progressed in severity and was fully resolved by April 2.

Scientists from the GHRC have submitted a paper on BV-1 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.