Brazil variant of COVID-19 surfaces in Illinois

Brazil variant of COVID-19 surfaces in Illinois

Rush University Medical Center staff collect nasopharyngeal swab samples to test people for the coronavirus at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site in November. Experts have found a more infectious strain of the virus in Illinois. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Experts have now identified three more infectious strains of the coronavirus in Illinois this year.

Public health officials have identified Illinois’ first known case of a more infectious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected earlier this year in travelers from Brazil.

Northwestern University researchers found the so-called P.1 variant in a test sample from a Chicago resident who came down with the disease, city and state health officials announced Friday. The infected person told contact tracers they hadn’t recently traveled outside Illinois.

The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travelers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It showed up in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states.

Experts say it spreads more easily than most of the “currently circulating” coronavirus strains, and some mutations “may affect the ability” of vaccines to neutralize it, though more studies are needed.

It’s the third serious coronavirus variant found in Illinois since the start of the year. Researchers previously identified dozens of cases of other new, more infectious strains first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“The news doesn’t change public health guidance around COVID-19,” officials from the city and state public health departments said in a joint statement. “The same strategies used to contain the spread of COVID-19 will work against the new variants: wear a well-fitting mask; practice social distancing; avoid gatherings; don’t travel unnecessarily; wash your hands often. And get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

Laboratories regularly send a limited number of their test samples each week to the Illinois Department of Public Health to monitor viral mutation in the state.

The latest strain surfaces as infection rates sink to all-time lows across Illinois and a historic vaccination effort kicks into overdrive.

Almost 9.5% of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been confirmed to carry COVID-19 at some point over the past year, and roughly 8% of residents have been fully vaccinated so far.

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