Since the original virus that causes COVID, SARS-CoV-2, emerged in March 2020, it has mutated into dozens of variants, but most are not all that different from the “parents” from which they emerged. However, a new variant scientists are bringing to our attention is genetically about as different from Omicron as Omicron is from the original “wild-type” strain, first discovered in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced It traced a new lineage of the virus, BA.2.86, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). add added the variety to the list of “monitored variants”. Originating from Israel, the variant has since appeared in Michigan in the US, three times in Denmark, and once in the United Kingdom, which issued its own variant risk assessment.
As of Friday, only six total cases had been reported worldwide, but the fact that the variant, nicknamed “Pirola‘, which has already spread across several continents, is ‘of concern,’ said Dr. T. Ryan Gregory, an evolutionary and genomic biologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.
“It’s not clear how big the impact could be If “It should go,” Gregory Salon said in an email. “While we do have some population immunity to serious disease from vaccines and past infections, we have feared for some time the possibility of another Omicron-like event” in which a very different new variant is evolving, and another large global one wave triggers.”
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Although this new variant did not receive a new Greek letter distinction such as alpha, delta or omicron, it is very different from the most recent Greek letter family of descendant variants: Omicron. While it shares about 30 of the same spike mutations that allow the virus to attach to receptors in cells more easily, there are also 30 unique mutations.
Specifically, there are about 57 mutations in the spike protein that potentially increase its ability to cause infection, said Dr. Rajendram Rajnarayanan of the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Most variants have around 20 to 30 mutations, he added.
“It’s definitely going to spread,” Rajnarayanan told Salon in a phone interview. “This had all the necessary ingredients for a successful line.”
“It’s definitely going to spread. It had all the necessary ingredients for a successful line.”
Scientists emphasized that this new variant is not yet a cause for concern. Nevertheless, there are COVID infections increasing internationallyand cases in the US have returned to levels considered “high”. 610,000 new infections per day. That’s more than triple the level recorded a month ago, which was around 1.5% 185,000 cases per day, according to wastewater data used to estimate disease spread. However, this increase in cases is not yet due to the new variant. Other closely related variants such as EG.5 and XBB.1.16 form an estimate a third of the casesthe rest are caused by a few dozen other variants, according to CDC data released Friday.
However, there are likely other cases of this new variant, pirola, that have not yet been detected, as the cases identified were only cases severe enough to be detected in hospitals.
“This is nothing to worry about, but it is a wake-up call for new sequencing,” Rajnarayanan said. “It’s not every day that variants like this appear.”
“It’s a reminder that variants continue to evolve and that the more infections there are, the more evolution there will be.”
Overall, testing and sequencing to detect new strains has declined since the WHO and the US lifted their pandemic emergency declarations. It is too early to tell if this new variant will manifest itself differently in terms of symptoms or disease severity, as only a few cases have been identified so far. However, current boosters will likely continue to work, at least against serious illnesses.
Pirola comes from a SARS-CoV-2 lineage that was circulating over a year ago and hasn’t been in the news much since. But now, the emergence of BA.2.86 shows that it actually evolved on its own, said Marc C. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. The virus is likely to mutate multiple times in a single chronically ill patient, Rajnarayanan added.
“It caught a lot of immune-vasive mutations that our immune system hadn’t seen before,” Johnson told Salon in a phone interview.
Scientists stressed that while there is still much that is unknown about the new variant, what is known is that the same pandemic protocols used to prevent the spread of the disease work the same for all variants and are the best way to ensure that these new variant does not occur the next Omicron. Masking, testing and compliance with vaccinations are vital.
“Hopefully this won’t be an ‘Omicron-like event,’ but it’s a reminder that variants continue to evolve and that the more infections there are, the more evolution there will be,” Gregory said. “As always, the key here is to contain transmission through variant protective measures such as respirators, ventilation, air filtration and avoid exposure where possible.”