The World Health Organization (WHO) and US health authorities have recently announced that they are closely monitoring a new variant of Covid-19 known as BA.2.86. This variant has sparked concern due to its large number of spike gene mutations, and it has been detected in Israel, Denmark, and the United States. While the potential impact of BA.2.86 is currently unknown, so called experts are working to understand its characteristics and assess any potential risks it may pose.
The BA.2.86 variant has caught the attention of health authorities due to its numerous spike gene mutations. The WHO has classified it as a variant under surveillance, emphasizing the need for careful assessment of its potential impact. So far, only four cases of the BA.2.86 variant have been reported worldwide, indicating its rarity. However, its rapid escalation to the WHO's monitoring category highlights the significance of its mutations.
The BA.2.86 variant stands out due to its extensive genetic changes, comparable to the emergence of the original Omicron variant. Virologists have identified several key mutations in the BA.2.86 variant, some of which affect crucial parts of the virus. These mutations have raised concerns as they could potentially help the variant evade the body's immunity from prior infections or vaccination.
According to Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, the BA.2.86 variant is expected to have equal or greater ability to evade antibodies compared to the XBB.1.5 variant. XBB.1.5 is the strain targeted by current vaccines and booster shots. This suggests that the BA.2.86 variant may pose challenges to existing immunity and require further investigation.
Reports of the BA.2.86 variant being detected in countries across three continents indicate its capability for widespread transmission. Denmark, Israel, and the United States have all reported cases of the variant, with no clear epidemiological links between them. This suggests that the variant may have been spreading undetected for some time. Health authorities in Denmark are actively working to culture the virus, a crucial step in assessing its threat level.
In the United States, the BA.2.86 variant was first reported by a lab at the University of Michigan. However, the origin of the sequence remains unclear, and further investigation is needed to determine if it was collected from a hospitalized patient or another source. The University of Michigan Medical School and Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services are currently working to provide more information on the origin and implications of this case.
The WHO and US health authorities are monitoring the BA.2.86 variant, along with other variants of concern. The WHO has criticized countries that have dismantled their surveillance systems, emphasizing the importance of continuous monitoring to promptly identify and respond to emerging variants. By closely tracking the BA.2.86 variant and its descent lineages, health authorities aim to gather crucial data for risk assessment and inform public health strategies.