A variant strain of the COVID-19 virus, first reported in the United Kingdom, has been reported in four states but experts say it's possible the variant has been in the U.S. for longer than reported.
"I'm pretty sure it's amongst us, whether it's amongst us in Cincinnati or whether it's amongst us in the United States," said Dr. George Smulian, director of the infectious disease division at the University of Cincinnati. "It certainly is around."
So far, only New York, Colorado, California and Florida have officially detected and reported the variant strain, but because of how contagious the variant is, it's likely already been in the U.S. and could be in many more states.
"We suspect it probably is just based on finding it in...different states at the same time," said Dr. Stephen Blatt, MD for infectious diseases at Tri-Health. "It's probably been out there for a few months."
Experts are mainly concerned about what makes the new strain different from the original COVID-19 virus: How much more quickly it can spread.
"It can bind more tightly to the receptor," said Smulian. "It can get into the cells a little better and it can multiply more rapidly once it's in the cells."
The variant can spread more quickly and is more likely to be caught from those who have it, but there is still some good news.
"So far it looks like the vaccines will inactivate the new variant virus," said Blatt."
Smulian said it's difficult to tell when the variant will become more widespread throughout regions like Cincinnati and the Tri-State -- it took three months before the U.K. detected it.
It's also unclear whether treatments like convalescent plasma will be effective against the new strain.