- The mutant strain – dubbed BA.2.86 – is responsible for one in 10 new cases
- But it does not appear to be driving increases in infections or hospitalizations
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A new Covid variant is spreading across the US, but experts have urged people not to panic.
This is close to triple the proportion two weeks ago. However, Covid cases are not rising, and the variant appears to be replacing other variants rather than initiating a new wave.
It is the first time the variant, dubbed Pirola, has surged enough to be listed on its own as part of the CDC’s estimates.
CDC’s estimates of Covid variants spreading across the US. It shows that BA.2.86 is behind an estimated nine percent of infections
Scientists first warned of BA.2.86 back in August. It had more than 30 mutations to its spike proteins, making it genetically distinct from other versions of the virus that causes Covid and worrying scientists that it may evade the immunity from vaccines
BA.2.86 is most common in the Northeast, with 13 percent of cases in New York and New Jersey.
But the variant is still mild and not more likely to kill. BA.2.86 does not appear to be driving increases in infections or hospitalizations, the CDC said in its report.
The agency said it agreed with the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) recent risk assessment of BA.2.86, which said that the public health risk posed by this variant is low, compared to other variants that are circulating.
However, it stepped up its classification of BA.2.86 to a ‘variant of interest’ rather than a ‘variant under monitoring.’
XBB.1.5, XBB.1.6 and EG.5 classified as variants of interest by the WHO. There are no current variants of concern, which is the highest categorization.
Scientists first warned of BA.2.86 back in August. It had more than 30 mutations to its spike proteins, making it genetically distinct from other versions of the virus that causes Covid and worrying scientists that it may evade the immunity from vaccines.
But BA.2.86 never really took off. Some studies suggested that while it mutated, it lost part of its ability to infect cells, which decelerated its growth.
Currently, the dominant variant is HV.1 – a mutation on the EG.5 variant which sparked concern earlier this year – and is causing roughly one in three new Covid cases.
Other studies found that the Covid shot offered some protection against the variant.
In its most recent update, the CDC said it did not know whether BA.2.86 infection caused different symptoms from other variants and said that in general, symptoms are similar across the board.
‘The types of symptoms and how severe they are usually depend more on a person’s immunity than which variant causes the infection,’ it said.
There were 18,119 hospitalizations due to Covid in the week ending November 18.
Covid hospitalizations are currently trending upwards slightly, with hospital admissions rising 10 percent in the week ending November 18.
The number of deaths for the same week was estimated to be 506.