Nurse in Brazil "gives a hand" to covid-19 patients 0:48
What used to be a mysterious new variant of coronavirus first detected in the UK is now the most dominant strain in the US.
Unlike the original variant of covid-19, B.1.1.7 is more contagious and especially affects young people.
"Cases (of covid-19) and admissions to emergency rooms are on the rise," warned Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English).
"We are seeing these increases in young adults, most of whom have not yet been vaccinated," he added.
And now doctors say that many young people suffer complications from Covid-19 that they did not expect.
So it's time to abandon the belief that only older adults or people with pre-existing conditions are at risk for severe COVID-19 illness.
Why is covid-19 variant B.1.1.7 more contagious?
Viruses mutate all the time, and most of their mutations are not very important.
But if they become significant they can cause new and more dangerous variants of a virus.
"Variant B.1.1.7 has mutations that allow it to adhere more to cells," explained Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.
Think that this mutation makes the virus stickier.
The coronavirus binds to cells with its spike proteins, which surround the surface of the virus.
"There is a small difference in the way the spike protein (B.1.1.7) latches on, which makes it stick to your cells more easily," said Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency room physician and director. from the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health.
The original strain of the new coronavirus, "you need some inoculum - a certain amount of the virus - for the infection to basically stick," Reiner said.
«Is One Viral Particle Enough To Make You Sick?
No, probably not.
On the other hand ... sometimes a massive inoculum can kill an otherwise healthy person.
And we have seen it in health workers, "he added.
So these new variants, especially the UK one, seem to be stickier.
So, the notion is that it is more contagious, so to speak, because potentially it does not need as much inoculum to get sick, "he completed.
What this means in real life: "You can be in one place and maybe have a shorter or a smaller exposure - more casual - and then get infected," Reiner said.
And because variant B.1.1.7 is stickier, "you may have a higher viral load."
"If there are more viral particles in your respiratory tract, then it will be easier to spread it to other people," Ranney added.
That's another reason why it's so important to vaccinate young adults.
More and more young people are hospitalized for covid-19
Cases of variant B.1.1.7 have already been reported in all 50 states, the CDC reported.
«What we are now seeing in many places are sick young people, hospitalized young people.
Whereas at the beginning of the pandemic, they were mainly older people, ”Reiner recounted.
"The explanation for this could be as simple as that the older population in this country has either already been exposed to this virus, died either from the virus or was vaccinated against the virus."
As of last Saturday, more than 78% of people 65 and older received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 60% were fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
In the case of “the unvaccinated, who are those who are becoming infected, we register a large number of young people.
And they are the ones we are treating in hospitals now.
In March, New Jersey saw a 31% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations among young adults ages 20 to 29, according to the state health commissioner.
The 40-49 age group recorded a 48% increase in hospitalizations due to the virus.
Ranney said she has also seen an impressive change among people hospitalized.
"There has been a gradual increase in the proportion of younger people in the last two months," the doctor said, citing data from COVID-NET, which tracks cases from more than 250 hospitals in 14 states.
“If we consider the week of December 26 or January 2, those over 65 would represent, say, 3,000 (hospitalizations).
And everything else together another 3,000.
More than 50% were older than 65 years.
However, as of March 27, "roughly (the ratio) was one-third 18 to 49 years ... about one-third 50 to 64, and then about one-third 65 and older," Ranney said.
Being an ER doctor, Ranney mentioned that she usually sees young and previously healthy patients battling the coronavirus.
"In every emergency shift I see at least some people who are there because they have persistent breathing problems or other side effects as a result of COVID-19," he said.
Ranney added that he generally defines "young people" as those under the age of 50.
But, "whatever age limit you use, right now we are registering more B.1.1.7 than previous variants," he said.
"Certainly, we also identify it more among people in their 20s and 30s," he said.
"And they are less likely to be vaccinated and more likely to be away from home."
The vast majority of positive coronavirus tests do not include genomic sequencing to find out whether it is B.1.1.7 or another strain.
But, as genomic sequencing increases across the country, health experts say there is no question that the B.1.1.7 variant is causing more hospitalizations among young people.
Dr. Justin Skrzynski is a covid-19 hospitalist, that is, a specialist in the care of patients with covid-19, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Skrzynski noted that the center sends part of its coronavirus samples to the state for DNA analysis.
"Right now, the usual COVID-19 test that we do shows whether or not you have the disease," Skrzynski explained.
"But we send a lot of them to the state, and we record something like 40% of our patients now (have) B.1.1.7."
Reiner believes that both human behavior and how "sticky" variant B.1.1.7 is lead to more covid-19 hospitalizations among young people.
"It may simply be because (younger people) get infected ... and maybe the inoculum (viral load) is higher," he said.
Also, young people can sometimes fall victim to their own strong immune systems.
Throughout the pandemic, doctors have observed some young, previously healthy patients suffering from covid-19 cytokine storms.
Which basically refers to when someone's immune system overreacts.
Which can potentially cause severe inflammation or other serious symptoms.
As B.1.1.7 spreads, the number of young people with cytokine storms may increase, Reiner said.
«We have seen very young people arrive at our hospital (in their early 20s) ... who have needed to be connected to an ECMO, which is basically a cardiopulmonary machine, for days or even weeks because they arrive with cardiomyopathy, which is a response to a cytokine storm, ”he said.
"Covid-19 does not have to kill you to destroy your life"
As younger people become infected, doctors worry that a disturbing trend they have observed for months will escalate: long-term complications.
"I can't say how many people I've seen in the ER who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who have never been sick enough to end up in the ER with COVID-19, but now have long-term breathing difficulties," Ranney said.
“Or they have a persistent loss of taste and smell, and they are losing weight because they are not happy to eat.
Or they have that kind of mental confusion that we hear about with covid-19 in the long term.
And it is not universal.
Not all people who get COVID-19 are going to have that.
But there is the reality that this disease is not benign, regardless of whether they are hospitalized or in the ICU, "he added.
"So I think there is this false feeling of 'I'm immune to disease just because I'm young' and 'even if I catch it, I'll be fine.'
You may be lucky.
And it may be true, that if you catch it, you will be fine.
But there is also the possibility that not, "he warned.
Reiner also mentioned that some persistent COVID-19 symptoms in young people have lasted for about a year.
"Debilitating symptoms that have appeared after the coronavirus infection," he said.
"So what I would say to young people is that covid-19 does not have to kill you to destroy your life," he added.
Conflicting messages about covid-19 from states do not help
Health experts say that it is essential to continue practicing safety measures against COVID-19 until many more people are vaccinated.
However, some states eliminated the mandatory use of face masks or reopened the bars at full capacity, just as the B.1.1.7 strain is spreading rapidly.
And this is likely to encourage the spread of B.1.1.7 among young people, Reiner said.
«They are the ones who go to bars.
They are the people who meet for lunch.
Older people in this country have been locked up for a year because they worry about dying from this virus.
The youth of this country have not cared so much about dying.
And there is a lot of pandemic fatigue.
Reiner said he understands that many businesses have been devastated and need to fully reopen when it is safe to do so.
"But suspending the mask-wearing mandate doesn't make any sense," he said.
"There is no financial or personal difficulty in requiring a person to wear a mask when in public."
Ranney added that young people can misunderstand the suspension of security measures.
"When you hear that ... as a normal person who doesn't follow the daily data, you think, 'Well, my governor wouldn't open it if it's not safe,'" he said.
"So I think there is that mixed message."
Covid-19 variant B.1.1.7 also spreads among children
Not only young adults get this variant.
More cases of B.1.1.7 are also appearing among children.
"We are seeing more children testing positive for B.1.1.7 than for other types of the virus," Ranney said.
“It does not necessarily mean that children are more susceptible to B.1.1.7., But rather that they are more likely to be exposed to it.
Both because they are away from home and because this strain is more transmissible. "
Although face-to-face learning in classrooms is relatively safe when proper safety precautions are taken, health authorities say that extracurricular activities, such as youth sports and other similar activities, are causing more children to get COVID-19.
And while COVID-19 deaths among children are extremely rare, they have occurred.
Some children who have contracted the coronavirus have suffered from MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is rare but can sometimes cause serious illness or death.
The easiest ways to end variant B.1.1.7
The good news about variant B.1.1.7 is that we don't need a new strategy to combat it.
But we do have to closely follow the existing guidelines to end this highly contagious variant.
"Although it is more transmissible, all the data we have supports the fact that we can stop it with the same techniques that we have used for other variants," Ranney said.
So it's still about masks, physical distancing, ventilation, and vaccinations.
And our current vaccines, and this is really crucial, work very well against B.1.1.7. "
But here's the catch: the longer a virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to develop new mutations.
And if the mutations are significant, they can lead to more problematic variants, including some that could evade the protection of the vaccine.
'For me, this is a red flag.
It's a sign of what could happen, ”Ranney said.
Variant B.1.1.7 «spreads more easily.
The number of cases is increasing.
We are registering some increases in hospitalizations, probably due to the spread of B.1.1.7.
But vaccines work against it, "he said.
"There may be future variants with which we are not so lucky."
CNN's Miguel Márquez contributed to this report.
CNN's Miguel Márquez contributed to this report.
Covid-19HospitalizationsVariant coronavirus pandemic