Reported by Deena Beasley
(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed on Thursday that a novel and highly mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus is currently under close scrutiny.
This new variant, identified as BA.2.86, has surfaced in the United States, Denmark, and Israel, as indicated in a statement released by the CDC on the X messaging platform.
“While we continue to gather insights about BA.2.86, the CDC’s recommendations for safeguarding against COVID-19 remain unaltered,” the agency affirmed.
The World Health Organization (WHO), also communicating through X on Thursday, designated BA.2.86 as a “variant under surveillance” due to its numerous mutations.
To date, only a limited number of genetic sequences of this variant have been reported from a handful of countries, according to the WHO.
This fresh lineage, boasting 36 mutations distinct from the prevalent XBB.1.5 COVID variant, “can be traced back to an earlier evolutionary branch” of the virus, explained Dr. S. Wesley Long, the Medical Director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist.
The pivotal question lies in whether BA.2.86 will outcompete existing virus strains or possess advantages in evading immune responses stemming from prior infections or vaccinations.
Initial analyses suggest that this emerging variant “is likely to exhibit equivalent or even greater resistance to antibodies produced in response to pre-Omicron and initial Omicron variants,” noted Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in a presentation unveiled on Thursday.
Of note, the targeted strain for the forthcoming COVID booster shots is the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.
Bloom’s presentation underscores that the most plausible scenario indicates BA.2.86 being less transmissible compared to the current dominant variants, thus confining its spread. However, further sequencing data remains imperative.
Dr. Long emphasized, “My primary concern would be its potential to trigger a larger surge in cases than what we’ve observed in recent waves. Nevertheless, boosters will undoubtedly fortify general immunity against COVID.”
(This story has been revised to rectify the COVID variant’s name to XBB.1.5 in paragraphs 6 and 8, the proper identification of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in paragraph 8, and the accurate representation of BA.2.86 in paragraph 7)
(Reporting by Shivani Tanna in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Simon Cameron-Moore)