The highly contagious UK variant is rapidly spreading throughout Houston, Texas, a new analysis has found.
On Monday, the Houston Health Department revealed the variant, known as B.1.1.7 was found at more than three-quarters of the city’s wastewater plants in samples collected February 22.
This is 47 percent higher than the number of plants the strain was detected at just two weeks earlier.
The analysis was conducted just a week before Governor Greg Abbott’s order that the state will be ending the mask mandate and allowing businesses to fully reopen in Texas on March 10.
‘The prevalence of the U.K. variant in our wastewater shows it’s actively spreading in our city,’ Dr David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston, said in a statement.
‘This is another clear indication that we must continue to mask up, practice social distancing, wash our hands, get tested and, get vaccinated when possible.’
A new analysis from February 22 found traces of the highly contagious UK variant in 79% of Houston’s wastewater treatment plants, or 31 out of 39. This is an increase from February 8, when the variant was found in samples from 21 of the plants, about 47%
Of the sewage samples tested in the latest analysis, approximately one-fifth had the variant, known as B.1.1.7. Pictured: Aerial view of a water treatment facility in the South Texas area just south of Houston.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 101 cases of the UK variant are in Texas. Of those cases, one pre-print paper found at least 23 are in Houston
Analysis of wastewater – toilet water that travels through a drainage system to a treatment facility – has been used for years to track a number of public health concerns.
Sewage surveillance is currently used in several countries to monitor poliovirus circulation, including Israel and India. It’s also been used in several cities in Europe to track the spread of opioids.
Researchers have found that infected people shed viruses, or viral genetic material, in their urine and stool.
Scientists believe this surveillance system could provide better estimate of how far the disease is spreading because this would include people who have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
In fact, the virus can be detected in feces within three days of someone being infected, which is before most people show symptoms.
The Houston Health Department and Houston Water began testing the city’s wastewater in May 2020 to better identify outbreaks.
The analysis was conducted on February 22, when officials collected wastewater samples from the city’s 39 plants.
Results showed that samples from 31 of the plants had traces of B.1.1.7., indicating its presence at 79 percent of facilities.
This is an increase from the analysis performed two weeks earlier, on February 8, which found the variant in samples from 21 of the treatment plants, about 47 percent.
Of the wastewater samples that were collected on February 22, about 19 precent detected the UK variant.
‘I am concerned about this new data on the UK strain of the virus in Houston, especially at a time when the state of Texas is easing mandates on measures proven to reduce transmission and ultimately save lives,’ said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement.
This in reference to coronavirus restrictions being loosened in Texas under Greg Abbott’s order beginning on Wednesday.
Coronavirus can be detected in feces within three days of someone being infected, which is before most people show symptoms, as B.1.1.7 continues to spread throughout the U.S.
Tuner continued: ‘Despite the mixed messaging, this is a clear indication that it is too soon to stop requiring masks in public places. I urge all Houstonians to continue masking up to protect their families and community.’
The Houston Health Department is currently testing wastewater samples in an effort to track other highly transmissible variants.
Among these include variants from South Africa, Brazil, and California, but results are still pending.
Last week, a pre-print study from Houston Methodist found cases of every single variant, including from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, New York and California, in the city – the first in the nation to do so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 101 cases of the UK variant are in Texas. Of those cases, the paper found at least 23 are in Houston.