May 28, 2024

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Multiple Countries Detect New COVID Variant: Provisionally Named “Pi”

Multiple Countries Detect New COVID Variant: Provisionally Named “Pi”



 

Multiple Countries Detect New COVID Variant: Provisionally Named “Pi”

On August 13th, Dr. Shay Freisen, Chief Researcher at the Israeli Ministry of Health’s Pathogen Variation and Evolution Lab, announced on social media that their lab had detected a “wild” sample of the novel coronavirus. The sequencing results were subsequently uploaded to the International Coronavirus Genome Database.

 

In the following days, researchers in Denmark, the United States, and the United Kingdom also detected nearly identical virus samples.

Freisen began to suspect that they had identified a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, possibly the next generation, which they provisionally named “Pi.”

However, as the World Health Organization (WHO) had not yet designated this variant as a “variant of concern,” according to COVID-19 naming conventions, it could not yet be referred to as “Pi” and was temporarily designated as Omicron BA.2.86.

 

Multiple Countries Detect New COVID Variant: Provisionally Named "Pi"

 

 


Community Sxpread Across Four Countries:

Currently, there have been a total of six cases of the BA.2.86 variant detected globally, with cases in Israel, Denmark, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Denmark has reported three cases, and there is no known epidemiological link between cases in these countries.

 

Dr. Shay Freisen noted on social media that while the number of cases identified is relatively small, the distribution across four countries on three different continents and the rapid appearance of these cases in early August raise concerns. The geographic spread and quick emergence warrant close monitoring and investigation.

Moreover, the genetic sequences of these samples are very similar, suggesting that the BA.2.86 variant emerged relatively recently, possibly within 2 to 4 weeks, yet it has already caused community spread in multiple countries, implying potential for rapid transmission.

 

On August 18th, the UK Health Security Agency issued a preliminary assessment of BA.2.86, echoing Dr. Shay Freisen’s concerns.

The assessment acknowledged that while the number of cases identified is small, the rapid appearance of the variant in individuals with no travel history in multiple countries suggests international transmission.

The genetic sequences from samples worldwide are highly similar, indicating its relatively recent emergence and rapid spread.

The UK cases with no travel history suggest community transmission, requiring a more comprehensive assessment of its spread within the UK over the next 1 to 2 weeks.

 

 

Challenges in Variant Detection:

Currently, many countries worldwide have relaxed policies related to virus testing, sequencing, and reporting, which has significantly increased the difficulty of identifying, monitoring, and researching new variants.

Record Number of Mutations:

BA.2.86, as the name suggests, evolved from the Omicron BA.2 variant. However, what sets it apart from previous variants is the record number of mutations it carries.

According to experts like Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the United States, BA.2.86 has 33 mutations in the spike protein gene region that determines virus cell entry efficiency and antigenic properties, compared to 35 mutations in BA.2 and 24 in the emerging dominant strain, Omicron EG.5, sweeping the nation since last year.

Compared to the earliest known variants from the end of 2019, which had 57 mutations, BA.2.86 stands out for its mutation count.

On the 17th, due to its numerous mutations, WHO designated BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring,” stating that “more data is needed to understand this new COVID variant and its transmission potential.”

 

 

 

Potential for Significant Immune Escape:

The assessment by the UK Health Security Agency highlighted that BA.2.86, with its numerous mutations, differs significantly from BA.2 and the currently prevalent XBB-derived variants of Omicron.

Although the combined effects of these mutations cannot be precisely predicted, there is sufficient information to anticipate significant changes in the antigenic properties of the BA.2.86 variant.

 

Jesse Bloom’s research indicates that out of the 33 mutations in BA.2.86 compared to BA.2, 17 could potentially lead to antibody escape. Compared to the 35 mutations in XBB.1.5, 13 mutations in BA.2.86 may cause antibody escape.

Many of these mutations could alter the antigenic properties, suggesting that BA.2.86 has evolved under strong antibody selection.

 

Hence, while not confirmed, BA.2.86 is believed to have a significant potential for immune escape.

 

 

 

Experts Consider Naming It “Pi”:

Currently, COVID variant-tracking experts on social media have tentatively agreed to refer to the BA.2.86 variant as “Pirola” – the name of an asteroid.

This choice stems from the possibility that if the WHO designates BA.2.86 as a “variant of concern,” according to naming conventions, the next letter after “Omicron” would be “Pi,” skipping “Pi” would lead to “Rho,” and “Pirola” phonetically aligns with “Pi-Rho-La.”

 

It’s worth noting that one of the earliest scholars to issue warnings about the Omicron variant, renowned infectious disease modeling expert Dr. Wiland, also suggested this name.

He explained that the BA.2.86 variant deserves “special treatment” as it represents a substantial departure from Omicron, much like the difference between BA.2 and the original variants. If 20 cases can be found in ten countries worldwide in the next week, he proposes renaming it as the “Pi” variant if it becomes a “variant of concern.”

 

 

 

(source:internet, reference only)


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