COVID-19 UK variant detected at UNH

Katie Hoppler

The B.1.1.7 variant, originally found in the United Kingdom, was detected in the test samples of two members of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) community.  

The presence of the variant on campus does not affect patient care and recommendations regarding isolation and quarantine. UNH remains in yellow mode operations.  

The announcement was sent to the UNH community in an email from UNH Chief of Police Paul Dean and Senior Vice Provost Marian McCord in the afternoon of March 8.  

The email shared that the university recently started genomic sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from samples submitted to the UNH testing lab. According to the email, “genomic surveillance enables public health officials to monitor genetic variations occurring in the COVID viruses, and better understand how they are circulating and how they affect public health.”  

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected on Feb. 19 from a Hillsborough resident who came into close contact with a recent international traveler. Due to the variant being in the state for nearly a month, its presence in the UNH community was no surprise, according to the email.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the U.K. and has since spread to other countries. Preliminary research suggests that this variant is more contagious and is associated with a higher death rate.  

No evidence has indicated that the B.1.1.7 does not respond to the current vaccines being administered across the world. Scientists predict that vaccination will still protect against infection and severe illness of the B.1.1.7 variant.  

All viruses change and mutate over time, and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. The constant change of the genome of a virus can lead to the emergence of new variants that possess new characteristics. Different variants have the potential to spread more quickly in people, cause milder or more severe disease in people, evade detection by specific diagnostic tests, decreased response to treatment, and evasion of natural or vaccine induced immunity.  

Genomic surveillance, like UNH is doing, is critical in identifying and responding to new variants. DHHS will use the data from the university to develop the most effective pandemic response for the state.   

“We want to stress that this additional data is something to be celebrated, not feared. We are one of the few institutions in the country contributing in this way to help monitor community spread,” said the email.  

“The university will not share any additional details. Patient information has been provided to DHHS for further action if necessary,” said Erika Mantz, university spokeswoman.