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Health Highlights: Feb. 24, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

New Coronavirus Variant Surging in California

A coronavirus variant first identified in California is more contagious than previous forms of the virus and is spreading across the state, two new studies show.

One of them found that compared to other variants, this variant produces twice as many viral particles inside the body and may be better at evading the immune system and vaccines, The New York Times reported.

The study also confirmed that the variant -- called B.1.427/B.1.429 and first detected in December -- has surged across California. The second study found that the variant has spread rapidly in San Francisco's Mission District in the past few months.

The studies haven't yet been published in a scientific journal or subjected to peer review.

"I wish I had better news to give you — that this variant is not significant at all," said Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and an author of the first study, the Times reported. "But unfortunately, we just follow the science."

The B.1.427/B.1.429 variant has been detected in 45 U.S. states to date, and in several other countries, including Australia, Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan. But so far, it has become widespread only in California.

By late January, it had become the predominant variant in California, and cases caused by the variant are now doubling every 18 days, according to Chiu and colleagues.

It's not clear if current vaccines will be less effective against B.1.427/B.1.429.

"If we can get enough people vaccinated, we will be able to deal with these variants simply because we won't have ongoing transmission," Chiu said.

While concerning, this variant is unlikely to pose as much of a threat as a variant called B.1.1.7, according to some experts. That variant -- which was first identified in Britain and has since spread to other countries, including the United States -- is believed to be more transmissible and deadlier than earlier variants.

"I'm increasingly convinced that this [new variant in California] is transmitting more than others locally," William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Times. "But there's not evidence to suggest that it's in the same ballpark as B.1.1.7," added Hanage, who was not involved in the new research.

Domestic Violence Incidents Increased With Pandemic Lockdowns: Study

Reports of domestic violence have increased more than 8% since widespread pandemic-related lockdowns began in the United States last spring, researchers report.

They analyzed 18 studies to compare the number of domestic violence incidents before and after lockdowns started, The New York Times reported.

The study was released by the University of Miami and the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. The team measured changes in police calls for service, crime and incident reports, domestic violence hotline registries, and health records, using data derived from official records.

"We were able to quantify, in large and small U.S. cities and some worldwide, a broad view of the impact that the pandemic has had on domestic violence," study author Alex Piquero, a sociology professor at the University of Miami, told the Times.

He noted that domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes, so the findings are most likely an underestimate.

"This is a floor, not a ceiling, with regard to the true veracity of what the pandemic did to domestic violence," Piquero told the Times.

The commission said the findings highlighted a serious need for more domestic abuse prevention and services for survivors. It said the need was especially urgent among historically marginalized groups and those likely to be disproportionately isolated during the pandemic, such as older adults, people struggling with mental illness and chronic health conditions, and women and children with past experiences of violence and abuse, the Times reported.

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