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First known case of COVID-19 variant from Brazil discovered in Wisconsin

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 2:10 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 26, 2021 at 10:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The COVID-19 variant originally found in travelers from Brazil has reached Wisconsin. Its discovery means all three known coronavirus variants have been found in the Badger State.

The Department of Health Services reports one case of variant P.1, which was originally found in four travelers from Brazil who were tested in a Tokyo airport, has been confirmed in Wisconsin.

Health officials believe that this strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original COVID-19 strain, similarly to the variants found in the UK and South Africa.

People who’ve had COVID-19 could catch the virus again, if it’s the P.1 variant, according to Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health’s chief quality officer.

He said, “The primary reason why we are suggesting that people who’ve already had COVID-19 get vaccinated [is that] if we do happen to see more P.1 or Brazilian variant in our communities, it does appear that those who’ve had COVID (natural infections) are at some risk, whereas those who have had natural infections and subsequently have been vaccinated may be at significantly decreased risk from that variant.”

Researchers also say the P.1 variant has a unique genetic mutation that may affect the body’s ability to recognize and fight off the virus. Antibodies normally develop through a COVID-19 infection or vaccination which can fight off COVID-19, however virus mutations may cause the antibodies to not recognize the virus. This would cause someone’s body to remain exposed to the COVID-19 infection to this strain, variant P.1.

DHS did say that more studies are needed to determine if strain P.1 and B.1.351, or the South African variant, cause a more severe illness.

UK Variant (B.1.1.7)South African Variant (B.1.351)Brazilian Variant (P.1)
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There are 81 COVID-19 variants total in Wisconsin currently, 78 of the UK variant, two of the South African variant and one of the new Brazilian variant.

DHS last updated their variant numbers on Thursday, having previously reported only 69 cases of the UK variant and only one of the South African variant.

“It’s likely that B.1.1.7 will become the primary strain in the United States, eventually in Wisconsin,” Dr. Pothof said. “It’s this race to get people vaccinated before that strain can start to cause problems for us.”

DSH stated on their COVID-19 dashboard that the number of variant cases identified likely only represent a fraction of the variants circulating in the state. Director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory Hygiene Communicable Disease Division, Dr. Allen Bateman, said the testing capacity for all four labs that test for COVID-19 variants are up to 600 specimen per week.

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