Officials say a new variant of the Brazilian coronavirus has appeared first in the United States in someone who recently traveled from Brazil to Minnesota.
The Brazilian variant P.1 was found in a specimen from a patient living in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s area fell ill in the first week of January, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement. The epidemiologist is interviewing the person to get more details about their illness, their travels and their contacts.
There is no direct indication that the variant is spreading in Minnesota.
The Brazilian variant was first identified in four travelers tested at an airport outside Tokyo, Japan. It contains a series of mutations that can affect their ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Minnesota Department of Health has a program that performs routine surveillance for variants, testing 50 random samples from a University of Minnesota laboratory each week. State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the new findings underlined the importance of testing as well as continued efforts to limit the spread of the disease.
“We know that even though we are working hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to develop like all viruses,” said Malcolm in a statement. “That is another reason why we want to limit the transmission of COVID-19 – the fewer people. who catch COVID-19, the less chance for the virus to develop. The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all variants of COVID-19 by using proven and correct prevention methods using masks, maintaining social distancing, staying in the hospital when we are sick and undergoing tests if needed. “
Some researchers have raised concerns that people who have been infected with COVID-19 could be reinfected with the Brazilian variant.
If it had to be confirmed, “it would be disturbing,” said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
The CDC has reported at least 195 cases of the British variant in the United States. The reports come from at least 22 states, including eight in Minnesota. The South African variant has not been found in the United States. Last week, the World Health Organization urged greater efforts to detect the new variant.
President Joe Biden on Monday restored COVID-19 travel restrictions on most non-US travelers from Brazil, the UK and South Africa. Experts have estimated that it is only a matter of time before the Brazilian and South African variants appear in the US
It makes sense that it will first be seen in Minnesota, which has more lab capabilities than is available in other states, Schaffner said. That means it may already be elsewhere in the US, but has not been identified, he said.
The CDC says that the British variant may become dominant in the US in March. While it doesn’t cause more severe disease, it will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths simply because it spreads more easily, the CDC said, warning of “a new phase of exponential growth.”
Scientists last week reported early but disturbing signs that some recent mutations could limit the effectiveness of the current two vaccines, although they stressed that the injection still protects against the disease. And there are signs that some of the new mutations could undermine viral tests and reduce the effectiveness of certain treatments. Some tests suggest South African and Brazilian variants may be less susceptible to antibody drugs or antibody-rich blood than COVID-19 survivors, both of which help people fight the virus.
Health officials are also concerned that if the virus changes sufficiently, people may catch COVID-19 a second time. Reinfection is rare, but Brazil has confirmed cases in someone with the new variant who had been ill with the previous version months earlier.
Stobbe reported from New York.
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