BA.2.86 is a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus.
Amidst a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the United States, United Kingdom and China, a new variant dubbed "Pirola" has experts worried. According to the New York Times, the variant also referred to as BA.2.86, is a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus, which emerged in 2021 and led to an alarming spike in Covid cases and deaths. This variant is causing a surge in infections worldwide yet again and raising alarm bells among health authorities.
"When Omicron hit in the winter of 2021, there was a huge rise in COVID-19 cases because it was so different from the Delta variant, and it evaded immunity from both natural infection and vaccination," infectious disease specialist Dr Scott Roberts said in a Yale Medicine bulletin.
"There is some reason to worry, in that this variant ... has more than 30 mutations to its spike protein," it added, referring to the proteins on the surface of the virus that allow it to enter and infect human cells.
"Such a high number of mutations is notable," Dr Roberts said, adding, "When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, that was maybe one or two mutations. But these massive shifts, which we also saw from Delta to Omicron, are worrisome."
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As per the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the Pirola variant has been detected in Israel, Canada, Denmark, the UK, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Thailand.
The rapid spread of Pirola "doesn't look good right now," Dr Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, told Reuters.
Pirola's multiple mutations make it "radically different in its structure" compared to earlier coronavirus variants, Dr Topol said.
As far as Pirola's severity is concerned, it is "too soon to know whether this variant might cause more severe illness compared with previous variants," the CDC stated.
"CDC is closely monitoring hospitalization rates to identify any potential early signals that the BA.2.86 variant is causing more severe illness," the health agency added.
Nonetheless, the New York Times in its report said that BA.2.86 may be less infectious than other variants. "There is also a chance that the variant will spread widely - and we will just have to wait for more data to know," Jesse Bloom, a professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who specializes in virus evolution, told the outlet.