San Diego County public health officials have discovered their first cases of a COVID-19 variant initially detected in Brazil among a San Diego County resident and a non-resident, officials said Wednesday.
The two cases of the P.1 variant were not connected to each other, county epidemiologist Dr. Eric McDonald said. The non-resident had traveled internationally and was likely exposed overseas but the San Diego County resident had no travel history. Neither were vaccinated.
The local resident, a woman in her late 40s, had limited contacts during her potential exposure period, so there wasn't a major concern that the virus spread widely among the population, McDonald said. Since she had no travel history, she is believed to have been exposed to the illness by someone in the community.
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"The woman’s sample was collected on March 5 and went through genome sequencing, which is not available until two to four weeks after testing," the county reported in it's daily coronavirus update, adding that four cases of the P.1 variant have now been detected in the state through March 19.
The CDC took over contact tracing for the non-resident.
Officials said they had previously reported a case of another variant from Brazil called P.2.
"The important take-home message is that this virus evolves all the time and this is one of the variants that's been detected in the world and now for the first time has been detected in San Diego," McDonald said. "And that we just need to be very vigilant about all the things we're already doing."
The Brazil variant was first detected in January 2021 among travelers from Brazil being tested at an airport in Japan. Testing of the Amazon later confirmed it's spread there. It was first detected in the U.S. at the end of January and is considered a "variant of concern" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Variants of concern "are ones that have increased transmission, might have more severe disease, leading to hospitalization and death, might have decreased neutralization by antibodies by either vaccine or by convalescent sera, which means that there may be an increased risk of infection or a risk of decreased effectiveness of vaccines or [it] might not be detected in the tests that we use," McDonald said.
The added concern with the Brazil variant, according to McDonald, is that it may have resistance to neutralization, which means the vaccine may be less effective against it or that people who are already been infected could become reinfected.
There are at least four more problematic coronavirus variants circulating in the United States, according to officials -- the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K., the B.1.351 detected in South Africa, and the B.1.427/B.1.429 variants first detected in California.
In addition to variants of concern, The CDC also lists less severe variants as "variants of interests," and more severe variants as "variants of high consequence." None have been designated in the latter category so far.
As of March 17, San Diego County has detected 300 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which have lead to five hospitalizations and one death. The variant was first detected in late December.
Coronavirus Deaths in Your City and State — and Across the US
These charts use daily coronavirus death data from Johns Hopkins University to show the seven-day moving average of deaths at the city, state and country level.
The impact of coronavirus varies enormously in the United States from one place to another.
Source: Johns Hopkins University. Data for San Diego also includes Imperial County.
Credit: Visuals by Amy O’Kruk/NBC, data analysis by Ron Campbell/NBC