What to know about the new COVID-19 variant, the Wisconsin effect

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A new variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is being closely monitored and worrying infectious disease experts, weeks before a new vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19) is expected to be available.

The new variant, BA.2.86, has raised concerns among infectious disease experts because of the number of genetic mutations in it, which they fear could allow the virus to more easily evade immune responses built up through vaccines and previous infections.

BA.2.86 has more than 30 mutations compared to the dominant strain for most of this year, XBB.1.5, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the same number of genetic mutations that were present between the original Omicron variant and previous variants.

“The concern is, could this cause a very similar spike, with more spread, more hospitalizations, more deaths?” said Ajay Sethi, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It doesn’t have to be a repeat of what we saw last time (with Omicron),…but it’s definitely on everyone’s mind.”

Three cases of the variant, called BA.2.86, have been detected in the United States, including… One in neighboring MichiganAccording to the GISAID Global Virus Database.

Much is still unknown about the newly identified variant. Here’s what public health officials and experts are saying now.

How dangerous is the BA.2.86 strain?

It is too early to know how resistant the new strain is to human immune responses. The CDC says.

Almost everyone in the United States has some protection from serious illness caused by COVID-19 due to vaccination, previous infection, or both.

“The number of mutations is concerning,” Sethi said. “But at the same time, we have much greater immunity than we have since Omicron, and there is reason to believe that existing immunity can actually work.”

In December 2021 and January 2022, when the original strain of the Omicron variant was first circulating in Wisconsin, many people still only had vaccine-induced immunity to COVID-19. Many people now have a broader level of immunity because they have been vaccinated and had previous infections, said Aubrey Gordon, an assistant professor of epidemiology and global public health at the University of Michigan.

“This will give them greater protection against any incoming variant than just having immunity to the original virus,” Gordon says he told the Detroit Free Press.

Was the BA.2.86 strain discovered in Wisconsin?

The BA.2.86 strain had not been detected in Wisconsin, as of Tuesday.

However, variants are likely to spread undetected for longer periods of time than in previous years, according to the CDC. This is because the level of genomic sequencing of COVID-19 has decreased nationally from previous years. This is the process by which laboratories identify the strain of COVID-19 causing the infection.

In July, laboratories in Wisconsin sequenced about 116 samples from positive COVID-19 tests, according to Wisconsin Hygiene Laboratory. That compared to nearly 2,700 samples sequenced in July 2022, according to the state lab.

Now, states like Wisconsin are relying more on wastewater testing to track COVID-19. This is partly because most people with COVID-19 are no longer getting tested, or if they are, they are testing themselves at home, rather than at a public health testing site, Sethi said.

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene is sequencing wastewater samples to determine which variants are circulating and where they are spreading. These data show that in August, several Strains of the XBB strain have been responsible for most of the COVID-19 infections in the state, according to the state laboratory.

Will BA.2.86 cause a more serious illness?

It is too early to know whether the variant will cause more severe disease or whether it will be more transmissible than other variants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only 15 cases have been detected worldwide and reported to GISAID as of Tuesday. CBS News reported Two of the three cases in the United States were mild, while the severity of the third case was not known. According to the report, three cases identified in Denmark showed “normal” symptoms of COVID-19 Danish Institute for Public Health and Research.

Sethi said people shouldn’t be particularly worried about BA.2.86 yet, while much is still unknown.

However, he added, people should be vigilant about COVID-19. That starts with a personal risk assessment, in which you look at the risk of you and your family getting seriously ill from COVID-19, the level of spread in the community and the risk of exposure by going to an event or doing an activity, he said. Then adjust your behavior accordingly.

Sethi encouraged people to respect other people’s decisions, such as the decision to wear a mask, because everyone has different levels of comfort and risk levels for serious illness.

What is the reason for the increase in hospital admissions for Covid-19 disease?

The discovery of the new strain coincided with an uptick in COVID-19 hospital admissions in Wisconsin and across the country, Sethi said, though this increase began before BA.2.86 was identified and was likely driven by other variants circulating.

In Wisconsin, the number of weekly hospitalizations for COVID-19 It has more than doubled since July, according to CDC dataa. In the week ending August 19, about 140 people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 52 people in the week ending July 1.

Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are still much lower than they were last summer, when between 400 and 700 COVID-19 patients were admitted to a Wisconsin hospital each week.

Experts said the increases in COVID-19 cases have occurred every summer since the pandemic began, and have been driven by new variables and things like summer travel and heat waves that drive people indoors, where they may spread the virus more easily.

Will the new COVID-19 booster be effective against BA.2.86?

The CDC believes that a new COVID-19 vaccine expected in September will be effective in reducing severe illness and hospitalization. But it’s too early to tell how much protection it will provide against BA.2.86.

Sethi said the vaccines will provide at least some protection against serious diseases.

“It’s not all or nothing,” he said. “There is still some effectiveness.”

more: Where can I get a coronavirus vaccine and get tested in Milwaukee?

Will rapid tests and treatments work on variant BA.2.86?

Public health officials believe that rapid tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will still be effective in detecting the new variant.

However, false negatives are always possible.

Food and Drug Administration It has previously recommended more than one testUsing a different type of test, if the first test is negative and if coronavirus is suspected.

Center for Disease Control I mentioned last week Treatments such as the antiviral pills baxlovid and molnopiravir, as well as the antiviral treatment remdesivir, should be effective against this variant, although monitoring continues.

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