While the Eris variant, the majority in Europe, is spreading at its own pace, another variant is appearing. The large number of its mutations leads the World Health Organization to place it under close scrutiny. Should we be worried about it? The opinion of Dr Gérald Kierzek, emergency doctor and medical director of TipsForWomens.
A new variant of Covid is placed under surveillance, announces the World Health Organization (WHO) in its latest epidemiological bulletin. The BA.X strain, also known as BA.2.86, was placed on the international body’s watch list on Thursday due to the “large number of mutations it carries”.
The new variant detected in three countries, but not in Europe
Only three cases linked to this new strain have so far been detected: in Denmark, Israel and the United States. But Maria Van Kerkhove, epidemiologist and head of the Covid response at the WHO, is concerned about the very limited information available on the strain. “A large number of mutations required closer monitoring”, she shares on the X network (ex Twitter). This is why close monitoring and sequencing are essential today to track known variants, detect new variants, and anticipate their consequences.
New @WHO variant under monitoring BA.2.86
V limited info available right now but large # of mutations needs closer monitoring
Surveillance, sequencing & #COVID19 reporting critical to track known/detect new variants
Updated page live soon⬇️https://t.co/VNvjJn8Xcv
— Maria Van Kerkhove (@mvankerkhove) August 17, 2023
Denmark, where two cases with no epidemiological link have been detected, is also working to better understand this virus and thus assess the possible threat posed by the new strain.
Also in the United States, the first case of BA.2.86 detected by a laboratory at the University of Michigan, was also sequenced by the clinical microbiology laboratory as part of “basic surveillance”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American health authorities, have announced that they are closely scrutinizing this newcomer.
An unknown impact at the moment
Nothing says for the moment that this strain would be more virulent or more dangerous than another. But monitoring is a precautionary measure. The international public health agency has decided to classify this new variant “in the category of variants under surveillance because of the very large number (greater than 30) of mutations of the Spike gene that it carries”. (As a reminder, it is this same Spike protein that allows SARS-COV-2 to penetrate host cells.). It thus joins XBB.2.3, XBB.1.9.2, XBB.1.9.1, XBB, CH.1.1 and BA.2.75 – on the WHO watch list in August.
Now is not the time for panic, but rather for knowledge. A concept recalled by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO: “We wouldn’t know if the virus is evolving, in case we didn’t test enough. Testing is essential to see how the virus evolves”, did he declare. Advice on infection prevention remains unchanged.
“The more the virus mutates, the more it becomes fragile”
This little known strain, should it worry us? Not really according to Dr. Gérald Kierzek, medical director of TipsForWomens: “This is yet another variant that has no reason to be more dangerous. But you have to understand that the more you try to protect yourself from a virus, the more it will mutate; the more vaccines we make, the more the virus will do everything to circumvent vaccination… It’s a kind of race against time between the virus and the human being”.
A mechanism which, it may be recalled, would rather be in our favour.
“The more the virus mutates, the more coding errors it makes, and the more it becomes fragile. That does not mean that it will be more virulent, it is rather the opposite! Especially since there is a phenomenon of cross-immunity, i.e.Although everyone today has had immune contact with a relative of this variant, there is no reason why there should not be immunity – at least partial – against this newcomer” .
Reassuring words that put the real potential risk into context without falling into psychosis. “We have lived with coronaviruses for millennia, we are not going to eradicate them. It would be a mistake to think so” concludes the doctor.