Reditus Laboratories’ testing equipment will catch the new COVID-19 variants, the CEO of the Pekin-based dermatopathology lab said last week.
“The current equipment will catch the variants and we added a separate platform that tests any and all viral pathogens within the sample,” Dr. Aaron Rossi said. While the existing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is specific to COVID-19, “the new platform (Illumina NextSeq) will pull anything we have within the sample,” Rossi said. The new platform is in house and will be ready to use in about a month, he said.
Reditus has processed about 1.4 million COVID-19 tests statewide since April.
A COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom – which experts estimate is 70% more contagious – has been identified in the United States. The variant had not yet been detected in Illinois as of Tuesday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the variant may spread more easily and quickly than previous strains.
Viruses change through mutation and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time, CDC said. Variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) have been documented during the pandemic.
“This is not uncommon,” said Dr. Joshua Geltz, a Virologist who is Reditus’ laboratory chief. “
Evolutionarily, successful viral pathogens establish themselves within the human population through mutation. This often leads to highly virulent viruses becoming less virulent. Specifically, viruses acquire mutations which increase transmission leading to increased incidence and prevalence of the virus in the human population.”
While the new variant will increase the number of COVID cases, there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease, Rossi said. But he emphasized that “it’s still early” and what is known about the variant may change as more data emerges.
A new variant also has been detected in South Africa.
“It is too early to offer any significant information about this variant as data is still being collected and analyzed,” Geltz said.
The question remains whether the new COVID vaccines effective against the new variants.
“This question is impossible to answer at this point,” Geltz said. “The CDC has indicated that vaccine efficacy should not be affected by the variant. However, they also indicate that further information/testing is needed to know for certain.”
Meanwhile, CDC recommendations for slowing the spread of earlier variants of COVID-19 also will work against the new variants, Rossi and Geltz said. Recommendations included wearing masks, staying at least six feet away from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces, washing hands often, getting tested and staying home when you aren’t feeling well.
“We continue to echo the same things,” Rossi said.