Maintaining Excellent Health at NDSU

What you should know about the highly mutated COVID strains

It is obvious that we need to plan how to combat new variants following Omicron as the planet stumbles towards the third year since the COVID-19 outbreak. Many people believe that the pandemic is about to come to an end because they have already encountered Covid.  

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, viruses replicate themselves in order to spread. They frequently mutate, or change, a little bit as they go. A variant refers to a clone that differs from the original virus. Variants can occasionally appear to be very similar to the original virus.

Others might clearly differ from the last.  Throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 had numerous changes of this nature. The World Health Organization (WHO) awards each new coronavirus variety it discovers a name based on a Greek letter. 

Public health professionals are concerned about the current new coronavirus variant called BA.2.86, or “Pirola”, but it’s too early to tell if it will persist or if it will be more contagious than the current strains of the virus.  In this case, there might be a cause for concern.

This strain has an unofficial moniker of “Pirola,” which is a combination of the Greek letters Pi and Rho, and contains more than 30 changes in its spike protein compared to XBB.1.5 (WHO), an Omicron variety that was the dominant strain in the United States until recently when EG.5 overtook it–the coronavirus penetrates human cells by the spike protein. 

There have been many mutations found, according to statistics on infectious diseases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It is also comparable to the amount of changes that made Delta, one of the first coronavirus strains, different from Omicron. 

Because Omicron was so distinct from the Delta variety and managed to avoid both natural infection and immunization, there was a significant increase in COVID-19 cases when it first appeared in the winter of 2021.  The fact that this strain has been found in at least six different countries and that the cases are unrelated is further cause for concern. This suggests that there may be some transmission taking place in the global community that has not yet been detected.   

Omicron, a newly identified variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a variant of BA.2.86, which is in turn a variant of Omicron. Compared to Omicron subvariants that have previously been found, BA.2.86 has more mutations with symptoms of sore throat, cough “with or without phlegm”, headaches and runny or nasal congestion(CDC).  It is descended from BA.2, an Omicron subvariant that circulated more than a year ago, in more detail. 

Statistics show the virus began in Denmark in late July; BA.2.86 eventually made its way to the United States in August 2023. Since COVID-19 surveillance has decreased, it is possible that the strain is spreading more extensively than previously thought. This is supported by the fact that the cases that have been reported so far do not seem to be connected. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that while COVID-19 treatment drugs like Paxlovid, Veklury, and Lagevrio and existing tests to detect COVID-19 appear to be effective with BA.2.86, this variant may be more capable of infecting those who have already had COVID-19 or have been immunized against it. There is no data to suggest that the strain is causing more serious sickness right now. 

The variation has been found in samples from either human or wastewater in at least four states in the United States as of August 30 (CDC).  The good news is that the world is less susceptible to a serious illness or infection from the coronavirus than it was in 2020 because of the increased level of herd immunity from infection and vaccination. 

Since the release of the first SARS-CoV-2 strain, numerous individuals have contracted the virus and or been amplified.  For many of us, a booster may not be necessary for a year or more.

Both Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general who was elected by the World Health Assembly, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest and encourage everyone within the society and population to get the updated vaccine, which is anticipated to become available in mid-September 2023; wash your hands; stay at home if you’re sick; get tested for COVID-19 if necessary; get treatment if you have COVID-19 and are at a high risk of becoming seriously ill; stay active; drink water and eat a healthy diet that contains the necessary nutrients to help bolster one’s immune response to pathogens; and if you decide to wear a mask, make sure it fits well over your mouth and nose. 

Contact the North Dakota Department of Health, Fargo Cass Public Health Department or the Student Health Services at North Dakota State University if you need more education, have health concerns, or would like to ask any questions regarding the new variants. 

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