UT Southwestern Medical Center has identified the first cases of the Brazil variant of COVID-19 in North Texas.
The medical center has been testing about 20 to 30 samples a week to search for variants, and reported the new variant Saturday to Dallas County Health and Human Services.
It is unclear how many cases of the variant have been identified in the region. The cases were not noted on Saturday's report from the Dallas County Health and Human Services and the county no longer publishes case information on Sundays.
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Though the variant has made its first documented appearance in North Texas, it is not the first instance of the variant in the state — as of April 21, there have been a total of 11 cases, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
The UK variant of the virus has been the dominant variant in Dallas County and Texas, where health officials have reported at least 57 and 1,714 cases, respectively.
While not a dominant variant, the emergence of the Brazil variant is worrisome, according to UT Southwestern. The variant, which is listed as a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can be transmitted more easily and is less susceptible to antibodies.
Other variants recorded in Texas include the South Africa variant along with two California variants and a Brazos Valley variant that was first identified by Texas A&M University.
There is not enough data to say just how transmissible the Brazil variant is, but it may be up to two times more transmissible, according to UT Southwestern. Transmissibility rates can range from 20% to more than 50%.
“These findings reinforce the importance of vaccination – which helps slow the transmission of all types of virus and protects against more severe disease – and continuing to follow safeguards such as masking and distancing,” said Dr. Jeffrey SoRelle, assistant instructor of pathology at UTSW. “Even though the variant is known to evade the immune system, meaning less vaccine efficacy, vaccine protection is far better than having none.”
UTSW scientists identified the variant using PCR testing or and next-generation sequencing technologies done in the McDermott Next-Generation Sequencing Core.
"An important part of forecasting is predicting how quickly the disease will spread, so knowing which variants are prevalent helps us make more accurate models," SoRelle said.