Minnesota lab confirms first U.S. coronavirus case associated with Brazil variant

(Reuters) - Laboratory testing by the Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed the first known COVID-19 case in the United States associated with a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus originally seen in Brazil, the agency said on Monday.

The announcement came as President Joe Biden signed an order extending a travel ban barring nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been to Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 other European countries from entering the United States.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday that the federal government is stepping up efforts to track coronavirus mutations as a flurry of more infectious variants emerge around the globe.

The variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as Brazil P.1 was detected in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil, the state health department said in a press release. The agency said it marks the first documented instance of the P.1 variant in the United States.

While the Brazil variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of virus that causes COVID-19, it is not known whether the illness it causes is more severe.

Similarities between the Brazilian variant and a South African variety that reduces the efficacy of three antibody treatments developed for patients suggest the Brazil P.1 form may likewise resist antibody treatment, scientists have said.

The so-called UK variant that first emerged in Britain has already been detected in at least 20 U.S. states.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Sonya Hepinstall