Minnesota is in the nation's healthcare spotlight after the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Monday confirmed the first case of the coronavirus strain known as the Brazil P.1 variant.
The confirmed case involves a Minnesotan from the Twin Cities metro area who recently traveled to Brazil, according to the health department. It's the first documented case of the Brazil P.1 variant in the U.S., and was discovered through MDH's surveillance program, which collects 50 random samples from a University of Minnesota clinical laboratory every week.
"While this variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, it is not yet known whether the variant causes more severe illness," MDH said.
The health department explained that the Twin Cities metro resident tested positive for the Brazil P.1 variant Jan. 9.
"With the new lab information showing the case to be the Brazil P.1 variant, MDH epidemiologists are re-interviewing the person to obtain more details about the illness, travel and contacts," MDH said.
What's more is that the MDH has confirmed three more cases of the B.1.1.7. variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom, bringing the state's confirmed tally to eight cases since mid-December. Two of the new patients who tested positive had recent travel to California while the third had recent travel to the Dominican Republican.
Like the B.1.1.7 strain, and the strain first found in South Africa, the P.1 variant is believed to be more contagious than the novel coronavirus that started the global pandemic. It remains unknown, however, if the mutated virus is deadlier, nor is it known if it can evade any of the vaccines that have been developed to fight the pandemic.
“This isn’t surprising,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Washington Post. “It’s a very difficult development, but at the same time not unexpected.”
Moderna announced Monday that its vaccine appears to be effective against the B.1.1.7 strain.