What is new Covid variant in US that has tripled in size over last three months | World News - Hindustan Times
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What is new Covid variant in US that has tripled in size over last three months

Dec 02, 2023 10:56 AM IST

Explore why health authorities suggest there's no immediate cause for alarm for the BA.2.86 variant of Covid-19 in the US.

A new variant of Covid-19, called BA.2.86, is spreading in the US, but experts say there is no need to worry.

 New Covid-19 Variant BA.2.86 Spreading in the US(Sanchit Khanna / HT Photo)
New Covid-19 Variant BA.2.86 Spreading in the US(Sanchit Khanna / HT Photo)

BA.2.86 is a mutation of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant and accounts for about 10 percent of new Covid cases in the country, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday.

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This is a significant increase from two weeks ago, when it was only 3 percent. However, this does not mean that Covid cases are rising, or that the variant is more dangerous. It seems that BA.2.86 is replacing other variants, rather than causing a new surge.

The CDC has upgraded BA.2.86 to a “variant of interest” from a “variant under monitoring.” This is the first time that the variant has been singled out in the CDC’s reports.

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What is Covid-19 BA.2.86 variant?

The variant was first detected in August and has more than 30 changes to its spike proteins, which are the parts of the virus that attach to human cells. This raised concerns that it might be able to evade the immune response from vaccines.

However, BA.2.86 did not experience significant proliferation. Certain studies indicated a potential decrease in the variant's ability to infect cells, resulting in a deceleration of its spread.

Other studies showed that the vaccines still offered some protection against the variant.

The CDC said it did not know if BA.2.86 caused different symptoms from other variants, but added that the symptoms usually depend more on a person’s immunity than on the variant.

“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.

The prevailing variant in the US, HV.1, stemmed from the EG.5 variant that raised alarms earlier in the year. HV.1 accounts for approximately one-third of the latest Covid cases.

Is BA.2.86 severe?

The CDC reported 18,119 hospitalizations due to Covid in the week ending November 18. Covid hospitalizations are slightly increasing, with a 10 percent rise in the same week.

The estimated number of deaths for that week was 506.

Now, Ohio county and Massachusetts are experiencing a surge of pneumonia cases among children, mirroring the outbreak observed in parts of China and Europe.

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BA.2.86 is most prevalent in the Northeast, especially in New York and New Jersey, where it makes up 13 percent of cases.

The CDC affirmed alignment with the recent evaluation by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding BA.2.86, stating that compared to other circulating variants, this particular variant poses a low public health risk.

The WHO has designated XBB.1.5, XBB.1.6, and EG.5 as additional variants of interest in their classification. There are no variants of concern, which is the highest level of classification.

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