RALEIGH — A new strain of coronavirus has been found in U.S. samples by a North Carolina lab. Mako Medical Laboratories said in a release that thirteen samples it tested contained the B.1.1.7 variant of the novel coronavirus. None of the 13 cases identified by Mako came from N.C. samples.
According to the release, only 122 cases of COVID have been linked to the emerging variant. The new strain is alleged to be more contagious than other forms of the virus and has been found in eight U.S. states and 33 countries.
According to Mako, the B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the United Kingdom in September and was detected in other counties in late 2020. These new variants can cause inaccurate PCR and antigen tests for the coronavirus if labs do not test for multiple viral genes.
COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and BioNTech have said their vaccine is effective against this new variant based on preliminary tests.
This announcement came as the World Health Organization issued a statement confirming that PCR tests can yield false positives and could be driving an increase in cases. Mako administers both PCR and antigen tests for the coronavirus as well as antibody detection tests. The WHO report is focused on high cycle threshold tests which can detect small amounts of live virus that might not mean a patient is actually infected. The cycle threshold standards are set by the Centers for Disease Control, not the testing labs.
The WHO cautioned that these PCR tests are “an aid for diagnosis” and health care providers “must consider any result in combination with timing of sampling, specimen type, assay specifics, clinical observations, patient history, confirmed status of any contacts, and epidemiological information.”