The unnamed individual had traveled within the U.S. in December by way of international airports, returned to Fort Bend County and developed symptoms several days later, Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson Minter, HHS director at Fort Bend County, said during a press briefing.
The person was medically evaluated, tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the results came back positive. The individual has since recovered, and officials learned of the case on Saturday, though it occurred several weeks ago. Genomic sequencing of positive tests through Houston Methodist Hospital helped uncover the variant.
“It was on this Saturday that we became aware of the fact that we had two isolates that were positive for the U.K. variant and one isolate that was positive for the South African variant,” Dr. S. Wesley Long of Houston Methodist Hospital said during the briefing. “These isolates were found from three different individuals in different parts of the greater Houston metropolitan area.”
All household members tested negative, and there weren’t any workplace exposures, Minter said. Officials also detailed two additional cases of a variant first detected in the U.K. Both cases are among males; one is a patient in his fifties currently hospitalized, and the second case did not require hospitalization. The U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, was first announced in Texas about a month ago.
Houston officials have also detected the B.1.1.7 variant in multiple wastewater sheds at “very low levels,” but have yet to find evidence of the variant first detected in South Africa, also referred to as B.1.351. While the implications are unclear in terms of how many people in the community might be infected, officials said the news shouldn’t come as a surprise, and serves as a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists 17 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Texas, though this is likely an underestimate.
Minter advised mask use, distancing and hand hygiene to protect from all coronavirus variants as vaccines continue to rollout.
Both strains are believed to be more transmissible, and likely more virulent. Experts believe the recently approved vaccines will remain effective against the variants, but the South African variant in particular has shown to diminish vaccine efficacy. While some drug sponsors are working to create variant booster shots, the Food and Drug Administration is simultaneously drawing up plans to help guide newly adjusted vaccines, drugs and diagnostics toward faster regulatory approval.