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New Highly Mutated Covid Variant Found In UK

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The BA.2.86 Covid Variant Is A Cause for Concern

Three cases of the new BA.2.86 coronavirus strain have been detected. The new covid variant has been found in the UK., Denmark and Israel and this morning the USA also announced it had found a case in Michigan

 

The global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic has taken another twist with news of a new Covid variant, BA.2.86. This highly mutated variant has been detected in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Israel, and the United States.

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Scientists and health authorities are closely monitoring the situation, as the large number of mutations in this variant raises concerns about its potential impact on the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of current vaccines.

BA.2.86 was first identified through genetic sequencing in Israel, and subsequent cases have been reported in Denmark, the United States, and now the United Kingdom.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed the presence of the variant in the UK, making it the fifth reported sequence worldwide. Dr. Meera Chand, the deputy director at UKHSA, stated that they are assessing the situation.

He said: “We’re aware that BA.2.86 has been detected in the UK. UKHSA is assessing the situation and will provide further information in due course.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring,” highlighting the need for continued surveillance and research. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also expressed vigilance and is closely monitoring the variant after its detection in Michigan.

BA.2.86 stands out among the Covid strains due to its significant number of genetic mutations, particularly in the spike protein. It has more than 30 mutations relative to the current predominant variant. The genetic changes have caught the attention of scientists worldwide, as they explore the potential implications of these mutations on the transmissibility and virulence of the variant.

At this early stage, it remains unclear whether BA.2.86 causes more severe disease than previous variants or if it will become the dominant form of the virus. Experts emphasize that further research is needed to understand the variant’s behaviour and its potential impact on public health.

Prof. Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, suggests that BA.2.86 may have originated from a long-term infection in an immunocompromised individual over a year ago. It is possible that the variant has been circulating in regions with limited viral surveillance and has now spread to other parts of the world. The coming weeks will shed more light on how BA.2.86 compares to other Omicron subvariants in terms of transmissibility and virulence.

While the full implications of BA.2.86 are still uncertain, experts express cautious optimism. Prof. Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist, believes that the high levels of population immunity achieved through vaccination and prior infections should continue to protect against severe disease.

Prof Tom Wenseleers acknowledges that the variant could still lead to an increase in infections and hospitalizations, particularly if it can evade immune protection.

Prof. Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, points out that the emergence of new variants is not surprising. However, he highlights the importance of being prepared for such developments. With Covid cases on the rise and the potential for waning immunity, the situation demands vigilance and proactive measures to mitigate the impact of the variant.

The detection of BA.2.86 underscores the need for ongoing surveillance, sequencing, and reporting of Covid-19 cases. The WHO and health authorities worldwide stress the importance of tracking known variants and detecting new ones promptly. This information is crucial for understanding the evolution of the virus and developing appropriate public health responses.

Dr. Celine Gounder, a former member of the Covid-19 Advisory Board transition team for President Joe Biden, emphasizes the significance of testing as a means to detect changes in the virus. Timely testing enables scientists and health professionals to stay ahead of the evolving situation and adjust their strategies accordingly.

“Deep mutational scanning indicates BA.2.86 variant will have equal or greater escape than XBB.1.5 from antibodies elicited by pre-Omicron and first-generation Omicron variants,” Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutch Cancer Centre, said yesterday.

The emergence of BA.2.86 reinforces the importance of widespread vaccination efforts. Vaccines remain a crucial tool in preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths. While it is yet to be determined how effective current vaccines are against this specific variant, the existing high vaccination rates in many countries provide a level of protection.

Vaccination experts recommend continuing public health measures such as mask-wearing, especially in crowded indoor spaces. Dr. Trisha Greenhalgh, a primary healthcare expert at the University of Oxford, urges the public to consider wearing masks again as a precautionary measure in light of the emergence of new variants.

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