A new Covid variant that could spark a fresh wave of infections has been detected in the US, health officials say — as they begin to monitor the mutant strain. Researchers tracking the variant — dubbed BA.X, or BA.2.86 — say a case has been detected in a Covid sample in Michigan.
The discovery comes less than a day after experts told DailyMail.com the virus was ‘probably’ already on American soil and likely spreading quickly worldwide.
A total of six cases in four countries — the US, Israel, Denmark and the UK — have been detected to date, with more cases likely to be detected in the coming days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday it was now tracking the mutant strain, while the World Health Organization (WHO) classified BA.2.86 as a ‘variant under monitoring’ due to the large number of mutations it carries.
The Omicron spin off — given the placeholder name BA.X, or BA.2.86 — has been detected in the US, health officials say. Six cases of BA.X have been detected, including three in Denmark and one each in Israel, the UK and the US
The above shows Covid variants in the United States. It highlights how EG.5, another emerging variant, has grown rapidly across the country
The CDC revealed in an update last night that it was officially keeping tabs on the variant
Announcing the case in the US, the CDC said it was ‘tracking’ a new lineage of the virus that causes Covid.
‘This lineage is named BA.2.86 and has been detected in the United States, Denmark and Israel.
‘CDC is gathering more information and will share more about this lineage as we learn it.’
It added: ‘As we learn more about BA.2.86, CDC’s advice on protecting yourself from Covid remains the same.’
Alarm bells over the strain were first rung earlier this week because of the 30 mutations it was carrying.
Its detection quickly prompted calls from some for face masks to return, while others said it was ‘reminiscent’ of the early days of the Omicron outbreak in 2021.
However, some experts sought to calm fears saying they did not believe lockdown-era restrictions would be needed.
While several cases of BA.X. were detected in four countries, because of delays in testing and reporting, it is likely a flurry of more cases will be reported in the coming days.
The new lineage ‘harkens back to an earlier branch’ of the virus, explained Dr S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist.
He said it remains to be seen whether BA.X will be able to out-compete other strains of the virus or has any advantage in escaping immune responses from prior infection or vaccination.
Early analysis indicates the new variant ‘will have equal or greater escape from antibodies elicited by pre-Omicron and first-generation Omicron variants,’ Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center said in a report Thursday.
Hospitalizations in the US are rising and have been ticking upwards from historic lows. In the latest week that data is available, about 10,000 admissions were recorded — up 14 percent from the week prior
Covid deaths are remaining static, however, although it takes longer for someone who has caught Covid to be hospitalized and then die from an infection
Bloom’s report notes the most likely scenario is that BA.2.86 is less transmissible than current dominant variants, so it may not spread widely, but more sequencing data is needed.
‘My biggest concern would be that it could cause a bigger spike in cases than what we have seen in recent waves,’ Dr. Long said. ‘The boosters will still help you fight off Covid in general.’
On Thursday, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and lead for the Covid response at the WHO, cautioned there is very limited information available on the strain and says it needs monitoring due to its large number of mutations.
Surveillance and sequencing is ‘critical’ to detect new variants and track known ones, she added.
The new detection in Michigan comes as Covid hospital admissions in the US rise 15 percent in a week, although they are increasing from record lows, to 10,000 admissions every seven days.
Deaths remain low, however, with about 480 now being recorded every seven days.
Dr Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, warned that another Covid variant — EG.5 — was also spreading rapidly in the US
Earlier this week, former FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb warned Covid cases were tracking upwards in the US. He said he was particularly concerned about the South, which was seeing the fastest rise in admissions.
This comes amid the emergence of another Covid variant — EG.5 — which is already dominant in the US and spreading quickly.
Scientists highlight, however, that there is no sign EG.5 is more likely to cause severe disease and death than previous strains.
Speaking on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Dr Gottlieb said: ‘There’s nothing to suggest that this particular strain [EG.5] circulating in the United States right now is more pathogenic than prior variants.’
Monitoring shows the variant is currently behind nearly one in five cases in the US, but Dr Gottlieb says the true number is likely nearer half.
Last week the WHO labeled the strain a ‘variant of interest’ because it was spreading so rapidly.
But it added that a more comprehensive analysis of this strain was also needed in order to evaluate the risk it posed.