WISCONSIN – The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported its first case of P.1. variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Health officials refer to the strain as P.1. Casas of two other strains — B.1.1.7 and B.1.35.1 — have also been confirmed.

State officials noted that the variants happen through mutations, which means the genetic code of the virus has changed. These mutations make the virus unique and different than COVID-19. Four people from Brazil tested positive for the new variant in January after they were tested at an airport near Tokyo, Japan, according to a press release by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

P.1 variant strain is the third variant

All three variant strains spread more rapidly than COVD-19. But the P.1. variant may “ability of antibodies, generated through previous COVID-19 infection or through vaccination, to recognize and fight off the virus. This means variant P.1 may be able to more easily infect people,” the press release reads.

Racine County COVID-19 dashboard

Health officials at a Wisconsin laboratory partner discovered the strain P.1. through its ongoing surveillance and whole-genome sequencing, which has become a routine practice.

“DHS continues to monitor for new SARS-CoV-2 variants in collaboration with our laboratory partners,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard. “Because these new variants of concern may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is important to get vaccinated when you are able. Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate.”

Vaccine offers protection, officials say

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and other laboratory partners do whole genome sequencing on a portion of positive tests, but officials plan to ramp up the effort. As of March 26, 78 cases of variant b.1.1.7 and two cases of variant B.1.351 have been confirmed. This is in addition to the one case of variant P.1.

To combat the spread of these viruses, health officials remind the public to continue washing their hands, wear a mask while in public, physically distance from others, stay home if you are sick and get vaccinated if you are eligible. Studies show that the available vaccines do provide protection against the variants. However, this is being “closely investigated,” according to the press release.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.