The first documented case of a variant of the novel coronavirus originating in Brazil has been found in the United States, as reported by CBS News. The Minnesota Department of Health announced the discovery of the new strain, called P.1, on Monday.
The virus was detected in a resident of the Minneapolis metropolitan area who had recently visited Brazil. The person became ill during the first week of January and underwent a coronavirus test on January 9, which gave a positive result. The discovery of the P.1 strain came through a random audit conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health.
P.1, which is thought to be a more transmissible version of the virus, is believed to have originated in Manaus, Brazil, where it has been circulating since at least December 2020. It was first discovered in four Brazilian travelers who were given a routine screening at Haneda Airport near Tokyo, Japan.
Minnesota's state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told NPR the appearance of the variant is an unfortunate outcome caused by traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, and urged residents to limit travel and take utmost precaution when doing so.
"These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible. If you must travel, it is important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, follow public health guidance on getting tested prior to travel, use careful protective measures during travel, and quarantine and get tested after travel," Lynfield said.
P.1 is particularly concerning for scientists due to its "unique constellation of lineage defining mutations," as reported by New York Magazine. This propensity for mutations could lead to increased transmission, reinfection of individuals previously thought to be immune and impact the effectiveness of vaccines. The mutation that can allow the virus to evade protective antibodies generated by a vaccine, called E484K, has also been discovered in South Africa's B.1.351 variant. In cases of B.1.351, which has not been found in the United States, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have found their vaccines to be slightly less effective, but are working on updates to address the concern.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm urged residents to follow health guidelines to ensure that P.1 and its risky mutation don't spread in the state.
"The fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve. The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate," she said.