The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Monday it has recorded the first known case in the U.S. of the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that has been spreading through Brazil.
Known as the P.1 variant, it was detected amid a surge of cases in Manaus, Brazil. Minnesota health officials said the patient is a resident of the Twin Cities area who recently traveled to Brazil, and the strain was found via genomic sequencing of random blood samples. The person was tested on Jan. 9, and is now in isolation. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist, said this is a reminder why "it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible."
Scientists are closely studying three COVID-19 variants: P. 1, as well as B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, and B1.351, first identified in South Africa. Virologists said the variants are independent of one another but there is some overlap in the mutations. The U.K. variant is spreading now in the U.S., but the South Africa variant has not yet been detected. Virologists are especially concerned that the Brazil and South Africa variants contain mutations that may evade the protections of some antibodies.
William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post on Monday the Brazil variant is "probably the one causing the most concern among people watching this. It is fair to say that P.1 is the object of very, very serious attention and concern among epidemiologists. We don't know why it has been so successful in Manaus."
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