And new strains of the Corona virus have raised concern around the world, amid rising cases in the United States and parts of Europe.
The variant BA.2.86, nicknamed “Pirola”, is a newly assigned highly mutated variant of Omicron that has led to a significant increase in cases.
Meanwhile, a smaller wave of COVID-19 cases has been fueled by the newer dominant variant EG.5, or “iris”.
Perula has more than 30 mutations, which is “remarkable” according to Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale University.
“When we went from (Omicron variant) XBB.1.5 to (Eris) EG.5, it was probably one or two mutations,” Yale Medical Bulletin quoted him as saying. “But these massive transitions, which we’ve also seen from delta to omicrons, are troubling.”
What do we know about EG.5?
EG.5 is a descendant of the Omicron variant and has one notable mutation that helps it evade antibodies developed by the immune system in response to previous variants and vaccines.
While the World Health Organization has confirmed that “the public health risk posed by EG.5 is assessed as low globally,” it has also classified it as a “variant of concern,” meaning it has genetic changes that give it an advantage and its prevalence is increasing. .
The variant was identified in China in February 2023 and then first detected in the United States in April.
What do we know about variant BA.2.86?
BA.2.86 is a newly assigned variant of Omicron, which is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but has additional mutations compared to previously detected sub-Omicron variants, according to Yale infectious disease specialists.
It was first detected in Denmark on July 24 after sequencing the virus in a patient at risk of severe disease. Then BA.2.86 appeared in the US and Canada in August.
It has since been detected in other symptomatic patients in routine airport screening, and in wastewater samples in a few countries.
Scientists said BA.2.86 is unlikely to cause a devastating wave of serious illness and death, given the immune defenses that have been built around the world from vaccination and previous infection.
Detection tests and drugs to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective with BA.2.86, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, this variant may be more infectious in people who have had COVID-19 before. However, there is little evidence that the strain causes more serious disease.
“It’s concerning that it’s increasing, but it doesn’t look like something very different from what’s already been rampant in the US over the last three to four months,” said Andrew Picush, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University. , quoted in The New York Times as saying.
“So I think that’s what eases my anxiety about that alternative at this time,” he added.
Will the reinforcements be effective?
Scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of an upcoming updated COVID-19 vaccine against BA.2.86, according to the CDC, which says the updated vaccine is expected to be effective in reducing severe illness and hospitalization from BA.2.86.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended keeping up with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as an annual measure to go along with influenza vaccination.
The elderly and immunocompromised are especially encouraged to get the shot to reduce the chances of developing severe symptoms.
“However, the CDC’s initial report says we currently have no evidence that BA.2.86 causes more serious illness, death, or hospitalization,” Scott said in Yale Medicine’s weekly news release.
“We don’t know yet how transmissible it is, and it’s very likely that it’s not spreading well and we’ll see this disease in a couple of weeks. But it’s important to remember that it’s still the same virus at its core, so the prevention methods are the same – the mask, the vaccination, the washing of hands,” he added. , among other things – it can help people avoid infection.”
What precautions have some countries taken?
The UK will bring forward the start date of the fall influenza and COVID-19 vaccination programs as a precautionary step after identifying variant BA.2.86.
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said annual vaccination programs for the elderly and vulnerable groups would start a few weeks earlier than planned in view of the alternative.
“As our world-leading scientists gather more information about the BA.2.86 variant, it makes sense to introduce the vaccination programme,” Maria Caulfield, Secretary of State for Health, said in a statement.
The variant was first discovered in Britain on August 18, and vaccinations will begin on September 11, with residents of care homes and people at high risk getting vaccinated first.
In the United States, updated COVID-19 vaccines are expected to become available next month as concern grows about a new iris variant.