A new variant of coronavirus that worries health officials has been detected in the United States for the first time, officials in Minnesota said Monday. They said they had detected the P.1 variant of coronavirus in a traveler from Brazil.
P.1 is one of four variants being closely watched by officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until Monday, it had only been reported in Brazil and among a group of four travelers from Brazil to Japan.
“The variant was found through the MDH’s variant surveillance program. Each week this program collects 50 random samples from the University of Minnesota clinical laboratories, Infinity Biologix Laboratory in Oakdale, and other testing partners and then conducts special testing using a process called whole genome sequencing,” the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement.
The P.1 variant carries a pattern of mutations that appears to make the virus more easily transmitted.
“The emergence of this variant raises concerns of a potential increase in transmissibility or propensity for SARS-CoV-2 re-infection of individuals,” the CDC says on its website.
It’s been the most common variant of the virus detected in a surge of cases seen in and around Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon region.
There’s no evidence it causes more severe disease, however.
“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 US,” 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,” Malcolm added.