SEPTEMBER 5, 2023
A coronavirus variant has raised concern across the world amid rise in cases in the United States, UK, China and parts of Europe. The new BA.2.86 variant, named ‘Pirola’, is a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus, which emerged in 2021 and led to huge cases and deaths.
Pirola has over 30 mutations, which doctors said is “notable” and helped the virus enter and infect human cells.
The Pirola variant shares its origins with Eris, both emerging from the XBB lineage of the Omicron strain. Both the variants, Pirola and Eris, have raised concerns globally while health experts are on high alert.
What Do We Know About Pirola?
It is a newly designated variant of Omicron, which is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, it has additional mutations compared with previously detected Omicron subvariants.
According to a report in Al Jazeera, it was first spotted in Denmark in July after the virus in a severely ill patient was sequenced. BA.2.86 then appeared in the US and Canada in August.
Scientists have said that BA.2.86 is unlikely to cause a devastating wave of severe illness or death, due to the immune defences from vaccination and prior infection.
Though there is little evidence of the strain causing severe illness, but early studies suggest that Pirola might have a higher affinity for infecting individuals who have previously been contracted by Covid-19 or have been vaccinated against it. Till the end of August, the WHO reported only 21 cases of the variant globally.
What is new variant concerning?
According to scientists at Yale Medicine, BA.2.86 has so many mutations that makes it different from other coronavirus strains and has the potential to bypass immune defences both from natural infection and prior vaccination.
“The biggest concern has been the number of mutation differences with BA.2.86. When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, that was maybe one or two mutations, and they were expected. With every respiratory virus, as it spreads from person to person, it evolves gradually over time,” Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist Scott Roberts said.
Scientists are currently evaluating the effectiveness of the COVID-19 booster against the variant in the US. As per the US Centres for Disease Control, the updated vaccine is expected to be effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalization from BA.2.86.
Countries Seeing Rise in Pirola
The variant has sounded alarm bells for public health experts in the US as it triggered a surge in cases.
According to CDC, Pirola has been detected in Israel, Canada, Denmark, the UK, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Thailand. Moreover, causes have also surfaced in South Africaand Israel.
In UK, a recent study of the variant, shows that one person was mildly unwell, another was symptomatic, and a third person did not have any respiratory symptoms. The fast-mutating virus has taken over as England’s dominant Covid strain, while the positive cases have doubled almost every few days in the past few weeks.
The case of variant infection has not been reported in India so far, but doctors say that the symptoms are likely to remain the same as most Covid-19 variants- fever, cough and cold.