As EG.5, the predominant coronavirus strain, spreads across the country, public health authorities have raised concerns about another new variant, BA.2.86, which has been dubbed “Pirola.”
BA.2.86, a newly designed version of Omicron, has more than 30 mutations in its spike protein, more than previously detected Omicron subvariants, according to Yale Medicine. Although cases have appeared in the US and five other countries, they do not appear to be related, which is of particular concern to health authorities.
Because “Pirola” has so many mutations, medical experts question whether it has the potential to evade immune defenses from both natural infection and previous vaccination, said Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine.
“The biggest concern has been the number of mutation differences with BA.2.86,” he said. “When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, it was maybe one or two mutations, and that was to be expected. All respiratory viruses, as they spread from person to person, gradually evolve over time. But these massive changes, that we also saw from Delta to Omicron, are worrisome.”
In a risk assessment dated August 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that there was no evidence that the variant was causing more serious illness, but noted that this could change over time. BA.2.86 has even been detected in wastewater, the assessment added. Although the CDC did not specify where a sample that tested positive was collected, New York City authorities confirmed that BA.2.86 had been detected in their wastewater.
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Regarding the symptoms, the health authorities affirm that much is still unknown.
Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, told TODAY.com that no data on symptoms associated with BA.2.86 infections are available because the number of cases is too small.
But if you suspect you’ve contracted COVID, here are some symptoms you might experience:
- Sore throat
- Nasal drip
- Muscle pains
- Smell disturbance
As with other strains, existing tests and drugs used to treat COVID-19 “appear to be effective” in treating BA.2.86, according to the CDC.
For its part, EG.5, also known as “Eris”, is probably more transmissible than the XBB.1.16 variant, dominant until now, according to experts from Yale Medicine. According to yale officialsEG.5 has a mutation in the spike protein that allows it to evade some of the immunity acquired by infection or vaccination, but they don’t think it causes more severe disease in most cases.
However, some may wonder if it causes any symptoms that are unique to other Omicron variants.
The answer, at least for now, appears to be no, according to the CDC and Yale Medicine. It usually causes symptoms in the patient’s upper respiratory tract, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and other cold-like symptoms.
Fever may occur, as well as changes in taste and smell.
In patients with weakened immune systems or older than 65 years, the virus can cause problems in the lower respiratory tract, which can aggravate the disease.
The good news? According to the authorities, Moderna, Pfizer and Novovax are preparing a new booster vaccine that specifically targets the XBB.1.5 subvariant, and it is expected that it will also boost immunity against EG.5. This new booster vaccine will be available shortly.
According to experts, this new booster vaccine will be available in the coming weeks.