Health officials in Minnesota confirmed Tuesday that they have identified a patient infected with a variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading in Brazil.
The particular variant is believed to be highly transmissible when compared to the original strain.
The infection is the first-ever reported in the U.S. of the P.1 coronavirus variant. Health agencies across the globe have been closely tracking the spread of the variant in the Brazilian city of Manaus and found it to be of particular concern.
One study published in the journal Science said that the variant has already spread to around 76% of the Manaus population. The study claims that the P.1 variant could be prone to mutate to a form that is able to circumvent the human immune system. Evidence supporting the study's claim remains limited.
The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed that the strain was detected in one Minnesota resident who had recently traveled to Brazil. The virus was detected in the resident through a random test as part of the state's COVID-19 surveillance program.
The infected resident reported lives in the Twin Cities metro area. He reportedly got sick earlier in the month and had tested positive on Jan. 9. The state's health department said that they had already placed the resident in isolation. Authorities are still investigating the case and are tracking down anyone that had been in contact with the infected patient.
"This isn't surprising. It's a very difficult development, but at the same time not unexpected," the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Michael T. Osterholm, said.
The novel coronavirus currently has multiple mutated strains. However, only three have drawn global attention. The other two strains that are particularly dangerous were first identified in the UK and South Africa.
William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the Brazil variant is the one to look out for as it has the ability to spread much more quickly than the other strains.
"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," Hanage said.