County officials express concern for UK COVID-19 variant

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More variants of the original COVID-19 are starting to show up nationwide - as well as in the Rio Grande Valley 

The Hidalgo County Health Department confirmed on Tuesday 10 cases of people infected with the variant B117 strain – commonly referred to as the UK variant.

The variant was studied after it was first identified last September in England, Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez said.

"They realized that this particular virus…had a higher capacity to infect anywhere from 40 to 80% percent more effective and on top of that, a greater mortality rate," Melendez said. "This variant and other variants to come are going to be the prime enemy in the near future."

Local doctors and scientists are moving quickly to develop treatment options for COVID-19 and its strains. Among the preferred treatments for faster recovery is convalescent plasma transfusion - a treatment a local doctor said has shown signs of improvement in his patients when used early on, and in some cases when a patient is severe 

"So when you give this particular plasma to individuals who are suffering from COVID-19 basically it's passing immunity, helping the immune system come up to speed," DHR Health Institute for Research and Development President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Suhail Rao said.  

This procedure has been used on 4,000 patients in 11 clinics across the RGV for recovering patients, Dr. Rao said. Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez was treated with convalescent plasma transfusion when he was infected with the original strain of COVID-19.

"I had developed light pneumonia, they gave me the infusion took about an hour fifteen minutes and I didn't have any reactions to it,” Judge Cortez said.

While the available COVID-19 vaccine helps protect the public against COVID-19 and variants, people can still get infected but the vaccine slims down the risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death. 

Health authorities suggest those who have not gotten the vaccine keep getting tested.


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