ROCHESTER, Minn. — A random disease surveillance program operated by the Minnesota Department of Health has identified the nation's first known case of the so-called Brazil P.1 variant of COVID-19.
The variant was found in a Twin Cities resident who had recently travelled to Brazil, according to a news release from the state department of health.
All viruses mutate and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. The Brazil variant is known to be more transmissible but is not known at this time to be more deadly.
It has mutations that affect the spike protein, however, and this raises concerns among scientists, not yet answered, as to whether the variant could evade the immune response and thereby allow re-infection.
Last week, the manufacturers of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines stated they have evidence that the vaccines now being issued protect against a new UK variant. No such is information is available about the Brazil variant.
“We’re thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement.
“We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do. That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission — the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve."
The state health department's public health laboratory processes a random 50 samples each week for whole genome sequencing, a review meant to develop "a more accurate picture of what specific forms of COVID-19 are circulating in Minnesota," according to the statement.
That means there could be more persons in the state with the Brazil variant. The test cannot say how prevalent it is, only that it has shown up in one of the 50 samples collected from thousands of tests conducted daily.
Minnesota already has eight patients identified as having tested positive for the UK variant, which is 50-70% more transmissible and possibly 30-40% more deadly.
That is a relative increase of a small overall risk of death, however: British authorities announced last week they believe that the UK variant is lethal in 13 to 14 persons per 1,000, compared to 10 persons per 1,000 for the previous variant.
The UK variant cases are all residents of the Twin Cities metro area, and most had recently travelled.
“One of the reasons we are able to detect those variants of concern in Minnesota so quickly is that we have one of the best public health laboratory surveillance systems in the U.S.,” Malcolm said.
Health officials said the patient with the Brazil variant is under home isolation and quarantine, and is being interviewed by health officials about their travel and contacts.