A New Omicron Subvariant Raises Concerns Among Health Agencies

The BA.2.86 spike protein has the potential to bypass the immune system because of its unusually high number of mutations

Dr. Zach Zachariah

--

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash; Modified by the author

A new Covid-19 variant, BA.2.86, dubbed Pirola, has 34 mutations to its spike protein relative to BA.2 (its ancestor), as well as 36 mutations relative to XBB.1.5 (the dominant strain earlier this year), according to Dr. Jesse Bloom, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

According to Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine, the virus has the potential to bypass immune defenses because of its high mutations. The large number of mutations is what differed between the Delta strain of Covid and the Omicron variant. “When Omicron hit in the winter of 2021, there was a huge rise in Covid-19 cases because it was so different from the Delta variant, and it evaded immunity from natural infection and prior vaccination,” Dr. Roberts says.

A total of 23 Covid-19 cases have been reported worldwide, including one in Michigan and another in Virginia. According to CNN three other countries, Israel, Denmark, and the UK have reported new cases. However, epidemiologists fear that many more cases may exist worldwide since monitoring of variants has dropped off. The Ohio Department of Health officials confirmed one case of this highly mutated coronavirus variant in Lorain County, on Thursday, August 31.

Earlier this week, the UK Health Security Agency released a new threat assessment on the new variant, stating that since these sequences were found in individuals without travel history in four different countries, “there is evidence of international transmission.” The University of Michigan is still investigating the case reported in the US, but no information is provided about the patient involved.

As of September 2, 2023, in the United States, the prevailing variant of COVID-19 is EG.5, a descendant of XBB, which is responsible for approximately 21.5% of all newly reported cases. Following closely is the FL.1.5.1 variant, which has exhibited rapid growth, now contributing to around 14.5% of new cases. Just a week ago, this variant accounted for only 13% of cases, as reported by the CDC’s variant

--

--

Dr. Zach Zachariah

Ph.D. chemist with an M.B.A. | Enrolled Agent | Writes on science | economy | taxes | public interest topics | American politics | Indian-Americans | COVID-19