Lake County resident diagnosed with Brazilian COVID-19 variant
A Lake County resident has been diagnosed with the Brazilian variant of COVID-19, the first in the county and third in the Chicago area, health officials said.
The two previous cases of the variant had been the only ones diagnosed in Illinois, according to Illinois Department of Public Health records from Tuesday. The first was found March 5 in Chicago, and another was identified by the Cook County Public Health Department, which handles suburban Cook County.
The Brazilian variant was first identified in the United States in late January through study of a Minnesota case, state health officials said.
Lake County Health Department officials said they don't know how the person was infected with this particular strain of the virus.
Illinois also has three known cases of a South African variant and 120 cases of the U.K. variant. These variants spread with greater ease than the original COVID-19 strain, officials warn.
"The rise of these new variants could impact the progress we have made this year," said Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department, where multiple cases of the U.K. variant have been diagnosed.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker addressed concern about variants Wednesday.
"These variants move faster than the original COVID-19, so the idea you could watch it for a couple weeks while it ticks up mildly doesn't work," he said. "We have to react much more quickly."
The U.K. variant was the first to show up in Illinois when Chicago Health Department officials announced a resident had tested positive Jan. 15. Ten days later, IDPH officials reported the U.K. variant had been discovered in eight cases in six counties.
Lake County health officials believe the U.K. variant is underdiagnosed.
"While we have identified a limited numbers of variant cases in our county, they are most certainly an underestimate of the number of actual cases," said Dr. Sana Ahmed, a county health department epidemiologist.
In suburban Cook County, beside the one case of the Brazilian variant, 17 cases of the U.K. variant have been diagnosed, as have two cases of the South African strain.
Four cases of the Californian variant have also been diagnosed in suburban Cook County. That strain was just listed as a "variant of concern" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because it is 20% more transmissible, according to researchers.
IDPH officials note initial studies of current vaccines show the antibodies that are produced "recognize these variants" and have so far shown efficacy against these strains.
"Based on the information available now, the vaccine will still be effective," said IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike. "Continued masking and vaccination when it is your turn remain our best path to defeating this virus as quickly as possible."
On Tuesday, French media reported a new variant had been discovered in the northwestern part of the country. While this variant did not show the virus to be more serious or transmissible, it apparently makes it undetectable through standard testing.
So far, eight cases of this new variant have been diagnosed in France.