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Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

Brazilian Coronavirus Variant Found in Minnesota

The first known U.S. case of a more infectious Brazilian variant of the coronavirus has been confirmed in a person in Minnesota who recently traveled to Brazil, state health officials said Monday.

The patient lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and became ill in the first week of January, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The person is being interviewed for more information about their illness, travel and contacts, the Associated Press reported.

There was no immediate indication that the variant was spreading in the state.

"We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. "That's yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve. The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate."

Some researchers have raised a concern that people who have already been infected with COVID-19 could be reinfected with the Brazilian variant.

"That would be disturbing," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University.

The Brazilian variant was first diagnosed in four travelers who were tested at an airport outside Tokyo. It contains a set of mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by immune system antibodies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, three new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have been identified. They emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and scientists believe they spread more easily than the original virus, the AP reported.

Biden Appoints New White House Doctor

President Joe Biden has installed a new head doctor at the White House.

He appointed retired Army colonel Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who led the White House Medical Unit under former president Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported.

O'Connor was Biden's doctor when he was vice president.

While he'll be commissioned by the president, O'Conor is not rejoining the military, and will be the first non-active duty doctor to serve as physician to the president in almost three decades, the AP reported.

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