Business Standard – August 25, 2023
BA.2.86 was first spotted in Denmark on July 24 when it infected a patient at risk of severe illness. Subsequently, it has been detected in symptomatic patients and wastewater samples
A highly mutated Covid-19 variant named BA.2.86 has been identified in Switzerland and South Africa, along with Israel, Denmark, the US, and the UK, according to a leading World Health Organization (WHO) official, Reuters reported.
This offshoot of Omicron has over 35 mutations in crucial parts of the virus when compared to XBB.1.5, which was the predominant variant through most of 2023. The mutation count is roughly on par with the Omicron variant that led to a surge in infections compared to its predecessor.
BA.2.86 was first spotted in Denmark on July 24 when it infected a patient at risk of severe illness.. Subsequently, it has been detected in symptomatic patients, in routine airport screening, and in wastewater samples.
A dozen of international scientists stated that while monitoring BA.2.86 is essential, it was unlikely to cause a destructive wave of severe disease and fatalities, given immune defences built up through vaccinations and previous infections.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said the number of cases is still low. That the known cases are not linked suggests that it is already circulating more widely, especially given reduced global surveillance.
Scientists are currently testing the effectiveness of updated Covid-19 vaccines against BA.2.86. Kerkhove stated that vaccines have been more successful in preventing severe illness and death than reinfection.
Dr Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that the new variant was spotted last week, and there have been nine cases as of August 23. The variant was also found in wastewater in Switzerland. The agency and others held meetings with scientists throughout the weekend and issued a risk assessment on Wednesday.
Current tests and treatments seem effective against BA.2.86, although the variant might have an increased capability to cause infection in vaccinated individuals and those with prior Covid-19 infections. But, there is no evidence that suggests it leads to more severe illness.