New COVID Variant BA.2.86 Spreads In US, But Appears Less Severe Than Feared



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New cases of the COVID-19 variant BA.2.86 have appeared in at least 10 U.S. states, according to the global virus database GISAID, but it isn’t driving the current increases in hospitalizations, the CDC said.
The new COVID-19 mutation, an XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant nicknamed “Pirola,” was first reported in Denmark in July, and has since spread to several countries. In the U.S., it has been reported in Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington so far.
There have been numerous mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some are worse than others. Pirola is heavily mutated, drawing comparisons to the original Omicron variant, but the CDC said recent “reassuring” research indicates the strain may not be as contagious as initially feared, or as severe.
The CDC says hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been on the rise in recent weeks, and are expected to continue rising. Although Pirola is gaining a foothold in the U.S., the plurality of infections are currently being caused by EG.5, a mutation of the XBB omicron variant, according to the CDC. It isn’t yet known if Pirola will become a dominant strain.
The agency reported 18,871 hospital admissions for COVID-19 infections in the week ending Sept. 2, the last week for which data were available, up 8.7% from the week before, following weeks of double-digit increases. The agency reported that deaths due to COVID-19 in the week ending Sept. 9 were up 4.5% from the week before.
In the latest forecast published Sept. 11, the agency predicted that hospital admissions will increase, with potentially up to 9,100 daily admissions reported on Oct. 9.
The agency also warned of another potential respiratory “tripledemic” straining hospitals this winter if COVID, influenza, and RSV all circulate and peak at the same time.
“Making sure that you are up to date on the vaccines recommended for you is an important strategy to prevent severe disease and protect yourself and others around you. Higher levels of vaccination across the population will also help reduce the number of hospitalizations and risk of hospital strain,” the CDC said in its outlook.
The agency recommended that everyone ages 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 booster vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration last week announced the approval of updated COVID-19 boosters from Pfizer and Moderna for emergency use.
The updated monovalent vaccines target the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant and related lineages, but vaccine manufacturers say it will offer protection against all variants currently in circulation.
Moderna said its updated vaccine protects against newer variants including Pirola. Pfizer, meanwhile, said in a recent statement that pre-clinical data show its updated Omicron XBB.1.5-adapted vaccine “generates an improved response against multiple XBB-related sublineages, including XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16, XBB.2.3, and EG.5.1 (Eris).”
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19. CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen said in a statement.
TMX contributed to this article.