Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — The World Health Organization has classified the BA.2.86 coronavirus variant and its mutations as “of concern,” although the risk posed by the strain, the organization said, remains low.
The organization had previously tracked this mutant as “under surveillance.”
XBB.1.5, XBB.1.6 and EG.5 are other variants classified as “interesting”. There are no current variations of the concern, which is the highest classification in the company.
BA.2.86 first appeared in the United States in August and is considered the third most common variant, responsible for 1 in 11 new cases of “Covid-19” and prevention. According to the agency’s monitoring, although the growth of the strain was exaggerated in the first few weeks after its emergence, the rate of spread seems to have tripled in the last two weeks.
But if BA.2.86 is not that important, why is WHO updating it?
“We have seen a slow and steady increase in its detection around the world,” explained Dr. Maria van Kerkov, technical lead for COVID-19 at the World Health Organization, in a video circulated on social media. He continued: “By describing it as a variant of interest, it helps strengthen the surveillance of this type of variant around the world and prompts research to understand whether it causes more severe disease or is more immune evasive.
BA.2.86, called Pirola by some virus watchers, sparked a wave of research when it came to the world’s attention this summer because it shared many of the characteristics that led to the spread of the original Omicron strain’s BA.1 variant. The coronavirus, and its rapid spread, has led to… increasing hospitalizations and deaths worldwide.
With more than 30 mutations in its spike proteins, BA.2.86 is genetically different from previous mutations of the virus responsible for Covid-19, which scientists fear could contribute to another pandemic by completely evading vaccine immunity.
However, the puzzle is that the BA.2.86 does not follow the same path as the Omicron. Some studies have shown that with the development of all its new mutations, this mutation has lost its ability to affect our cells, allowing their growth to slow down.
Other studies have shown that it does not completely evade the body’s immune system, and the current “Covid-19” vaccine, which has mechanisms to fight the XBB.1.5 mutant, provides some protection from it, which is good news.
But mutant hunters have tempered this hope, warning that the original virus BA.2.86 is still evolving and one of its variants could once again become a force to be reckoned with.
Computational virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, USA. Jesse Bloom pointed out that, in fact, BA.2.86 is constantly evolving and sending mutations out into the world very quickly.
In a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and China, Bloom pointed out that the JN.1 mutant has a change in its genetic code that helps it escape our immune defenses, although the difference is modest: the ability of our antibodies to neutralize the virus is reduced by about twofold.
However, this change was enough to give it a growth advantage over its predecessor.
“Based on the speed of its spread, we can see that the number of JN.1 is increasing faster than the original BA.2.86,” Bloom said.
At the same time, the distantly related XBB family of viruses, which includes several fastidious and evasive strains such as HV.1, is expanding its range.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HV.1 is currently the dominant strain in the United States and causes disease in 1 in 3 new cases of COVID-19.
Lack of data Make predictions difficult
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said, “Many countries have seen an increase in cases overseas as PA2.86 and JN1 spread.
In Europe, this disease is associated with many countries, but in other countries it does not happen, what do we understand from that?
Europe is seen as a good barometer for what the coronavirus might do to the US, but immunity, behavior and surveillance vary from country to country, making it hard to know what will happen there.
A big problem is the lack of data, said Dr. Peter Hodes, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital who developed the Covid-19 vaccine.
“It’s harder than ever to know what’s going on because we’re not doing much monitoring anymore, so we have to rely on forecasts and a combination of factors like wastewater, hospitalizations and the percentage of positive cases,” Hatz explained.
However, Hotez noted that there is reason to be cautious in the coming weeks, given the signs we may see.
Hospitalization rates have started to rise again as the coronavirus recedes.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last week, more than 18,000 Americans were hospitalized due to Covid-19, an increase of about 10% from the previous week.
Nationally, levels of coronavirus in wastewater are increasing and appear to be increasing, which could increase the number of cases.