DPH: First case of Covid-19 variant first detected in Brazil identified in Mass. woman

BARNSTABLE COUNTY — A Massachusetts woman in her 30s has been confirmed as the first case of the P.1 COVID-19 variant in the state.

The variant, which originated in Brazil, has been detected in a Barnstable County woman, “from genetic sequencing conducted through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national surveillance system,” the state’s Department of Public Health said.

The state said it is unaware if the woman recently traveled. She tested positive for COVID-19 in late February.

“If it is associated with travel, then we can have at least some hope that it’s been introduced but has not started transmitting,” said Harvard Dr. William Hanage. “If it’s not associated with travel, then that indicates that it’s already circulating in the community and we can expect to see more of it. We always knew that it was going to get here at some point and just hasn’t come as quickly as B.1.1.7. That’s not surprising the passenger volumes from Brazil to the United States are about 100-times less than from the UK to the United States, so it takes longer.”

According to DPH, there have been 213 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, originally found in the United Kingdom, and six cases of the B.1.351, which originated in South Africa, reported in Massachusetts. The B.1.1.7 variant is known to spread more easily and has caused a rapid surge of cases in the UK, several other countries and parts of the United States.

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“I don’t think that it’s clear that one is more dangerous than the other,” said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, the chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“We know that the U.K. strain is much more easily transmitted. It might lead to slightly more cases of severe disease. In the South African and Brazilian strain[s], our greatest concern is they appear to be able to reinfect people who have previously recovered from COVID, and that that is worrisome.”

Doctors know the new mutations could be game-changers, and that’s why we are now in a race between trying to get people vaccinated before having the variants take over.

“The mRNA vaccines produce extremely good immunity and the Johnson & Johnson – we don’t have a direct comparison with the Johnson & Johnson yet; but if you look at the J&J results from South Africa, where there was a circulating variant which included one of the mutations which are found in this, it performed very well,” Dr. Hanage said.

Doctors said some participants in the J&J vaccine trial were in Brazil, so that gives them hope.

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