The coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil has been detected in Minnesota, marking the first known cases in the United States.
Minnesota Health Department officials said on Monday that a resident developed COVID-19 after traveling to Brazil. Genome sequencing determined that the patient had contracted the P.1 variant while there.
Although the variant is believed to be more contagious than the original virus, there is no evidence to suggest that it causes any more severe disease, state health officials said.
However, the variant contains a collection of potential mutations can affect the ability of antibodies produced through previous infection or vaccination to neutralize the virus, According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But more scientific evidence is needed to confirm this.
The P.1 variant is the most common variant circulating in Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon region. Recent research found variants identified in 42% of samples sequenced at the end of December.
That CDC says these findings suggest the variant may spread more easily or may lead to reinfection.
The variant is one of the few that the CDC is closely tracking. Others include variants first discovered in Britain and South Africa.
As of Tuesday morning, British and Brazilian variants have been detected in the US. The South African variant has not been found in the US, but has spread to more than 20 countries.
The COVID-19 vaccine makers say their vaccine still protects against emerging variants. New data from Moderna found that the vaccine protects against the British and South African variants, but the protection against the South African variant is not that strong.
Moderna does not have data on the effectiveness of its vaccine against the Brazilian variant, which is similar to the South African variant. But the company is exploring whether booster injections will increase the strength of the vaccine against the variant.
Leana Wen, an emergency doctor, told me CNN that public health officers are very concerned about the variants.
“We’ve seen what’s happening in other countries that really have the coronavirus under relatively good control, then these variants take over and they have an explosive spread of the virus, and then flood hospitals,” he said.
Wen stressed the importance of increasing vaccinations and genome sequencing tests.
All the viruses mutated so that the emerging variant was unexpected, Michael T. Stockholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and advisor to President Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, said The Washington Post.
“This is the new reality of COVID,” he said. “This is now the beginning of the variant era.”