A new coronavirus strain has quickly captured the attention of health officials.
Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said they are tracking BA.2.86, which has been found in very small numbers in the U.S., the U.K., Denmark and Israel. This week, WHO swiftly upgraded BA.2.86 to a “variant under monitoring,” adding that it has over 30 mutations.
A “variant under monitoring” is a strain with genetic changes that could affect its characteristics like transmissibility but that limited evidence makes its impact unclear, according to WHO.
“If a variant has an unusually large number of antigenic mutations but with very few sequences and/or it is not possible to estimate its relative growth advantage, such a variant can also be designated a [variant under monitoring],” according to WHO’s definition.
BA.2.86 is still a subvariant of omicron, but little information on the strain is currently available. Its large number of mutations means it needs “closer monitoring,” according to WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove. “The potential impact of the BA.2.86 mutations are presently unknown and undergoing careful assessment,” WHO said in a report posted Thursday.
The organization said there are too few sequences of the strain to be able to estimate its prevalence. Similarly, it did not make it onto CDC’s variant tracker update this week. A CDC spokeswoman told U.S. News in a statement that “scientists are working now to understand more about the newly identified lineage and we will share more information as it becomes available.”
It’s too early to know what will happen with the new strain, but the rapid reactions from health agencies likely mean it’s one to keep an eye on.
By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder