As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, a new variant called “Pirola” has experts worried.
Also called BA.2.86, Pirola is a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus that emerged in 2021 and led to a staggering spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“When Omicron arrived in the winter of 2021, there was a huge spike in COVID-19 cases because it was so different from the Delta variant and eluded immunity to both natural infections and vaccines,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, infectious disease specialist said in a Yale Medicine bulletin.
The bulletin states, “There is cause for concern because this variant … has more than 30 mutations in its spike protein,” referring to the proteins on the surface of the virus that allow it to infect invade and infect human cells.
“Such a high number of mutations is remarkable,” said Roberts. “When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, it was maybe a mutation or two. But these massive shifts that we’ve also seen from Delta to Omicron are worrying.”
Is the new COVID variant worse?
The three biggest questions medical experts must ask themselves are: How transmissible is Pirola? Will it bypass the existing immune system? How deadly will it be for those unfortunate enough to contract it?
“Right now, no one knows, but studies are ongoing,” Roberts said.
The Pirola variant was originally discovered in Israel and later identified in Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Thailand. according to CDC.
By August, it had surfaced in Ohio, Virginia, Michigan and New York. And on Thursday, Dr. S. Wesley Long of Houston Methodist Hospital for isolating a Texas case of the Pirola variant.
The rapid spread of Pirola “isn’t looking good right now,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. said Reuters.
Pirola’s multiple mutations made it “radically different in its structure” compared to previous coronavirus variants, Topol said.
As for Pirola’s heaviness: “[i]It’s too early to know if this variant could lead to more severe disease compared to previous variants,” the CDC said.
“CDC is closely monitoring hospitalization rates to identify possible early signals that the BA.2.86 variant is causing more severe disease.”
Information on the Pirola vaccine
Our current level of immunity, whether through vaccination or a previous infection, also remains to be seen.
Expected to be available later this month, the new booster shots have been specifically designed for the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant.
Nonetheless, according to the CDC, the booster shots “are likely to be effective in reducing serious illness and hospitalizations,” states BA.2.86. “This assessment may change as additional scientific data becomes available.”
“The vaccine will still give you excellent protection against disease and death,” Long said.
Other experts agree: Despite Pirola’s mutations, “it’s important to remember that at heart it’s still the same virus, so the same prevention methods — masking, vaccination and hand washing, among others — can help people avoid infection.” to avoid,” said Roberts.