COVID variant BA.2.86: Multiple nations are reporting the highly modified COVID variant BA.2.86

In the ever-evolving landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities and scientists worldwide are diligently studying BA.2.86, a newly identified strain of the virus responsible for COVID-19. This highly mutated variant has begun to spread across multiple countries and has also made its presence felt in at least three different states within the United States.

COVID variant BA.2.86

Assessing the Preparedness

For now, health officials are confident in their readiness to combat this new variant should it continue to proliferate. Preliminary assessments indicate that the current arsenal of treatments, testing procedures, and the imminent vaccine rollout scheduled for next month will remain effective against BA.2.86.

However, the emergence of this variant, affectionately dubbed “Pirola” on social media, raises several critical questions. Its mutations could potentially signify a significant evolutionary leap, akin to the emergence of the Omicron variant in 2021.

Unpacking the COVID variant BA.2.86

Is There a New COVID Variant?

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been closely monitoring the emergence of a novel, highly mutated COVID-19 variant labeled BA.2.86. Concerns initially arose when variant trackers noticed a handful of new sequences in global virus databases, marked by numerous genetic changes distinct from the prevalent strains.

Compared to the earlier XBB.1.5 variant, which triggered a wave of infections earlier this year and was selected as the target for upcoming fall booster shots, BA.2.86 boasts a staggering 36 mutations. This count is strikingly similar to the number of mutations observed in the early Omicron variants of 2021 when compared to the original virus strain.

Notably, BA.2.86’s mutations encompass vital regions of the virus, potentially enhancing its ability to evade the human body’s immune defenses resulting from previous infections or vaccinations. While BA.2.86 is currently considered a part of the Omicron variant family, the WHO has indicated that this classification might change if the variant continues to spread.

” The statement by Maria Van Kerkhove, “We will use a Greek letter when we have a variant of concern, and we won’t hesitate to use those Greek letters should they be needed,” was made in response to the question, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead.

Global Detection

Where has the new COVID variant BA.2.86 been detected? As of August 25th, at least ten cases have been reported to the global virus database GISAID or health authorities. These cases are distributed across various regions, with four in Denmark, two in South Africa, two in the United States, one in Israel, and another in the United Kingdom. Thankfully, there have been no reported fatalities as of the August 24th WHO report.

Crucially, none of these cases exhibit a known epidemiological link with each other or compromised immune systems, according to a spokesperson for the U.N. agency. This phenomenon has led experts to speculate that past highly-mutated variants often emerged in immunocompromised patients grappling with lingering infections.

The first known case of BA.2.86 in the United States was reported from a sample collected on August 3rd, originating from Washtenaw County, Michigan. Subsequently, a second case surfaced on August 10th at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. This case involved a traveler from Japan to the Washington, D.C. area airport.

Ohio became the third state to confirm BA.2.86’s presence on August 23rd, relying on a preliminary detection from wastewater samples. The CDC anticipates confirming this detection within the next two weeks.

Furthermore, several other countries have reported preliminary indications of BA.2.86’s mutations in their wastewater samples. Switzerland and Thailand have already confirmed these detections, Denmark announced theirs via social media, and scientists in Spain and Germany have also noted signs of mutations linked to BA.2.86.

Impact on COVID Tests

Do COVID tests detect the new COVID variant BA.2.86? Current COVID-19 tests are expected to remain effective against BA.2.86, based on initial analyses. The CDC’s risk assessment, published on August 23rd, suggests that the mutation profile of BA.2.86 is unlikely to significantly impact molecular and antigen-based testing.

In the United States, authorities have consistently monitored the performance of COVID-19 tests concerning emerging variants. Detailed computer modeling by the FDA has led to the identification of tests with reduced performance for previous strains. However, validation efforts by the NIH and Emory University are sometimes necessary to assess real-world test performance against new variants.

It’s worth noting that revalidation often requires experiments using samples from individuals infected with the specific strains, which may be limited in availability. In light of this, last year, the FDA encouraged Americans to conduct repeat testing with at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests after an increase in false-negative results.

Symptomatic Differences

What distinguishes the new COVID variation BA.2.86 from earlier strains in terms of symptoms? While there are some early reports suggesting promising differences, it’s currently too early to definitively determine if BA.2.86 will induce new or more severe symptoms.

Michigan’s health department reported that their case involved “an older adult with mild symptoms who was not hospitalized.” Similarly, the traveler in Virginia was asymptomatic, as indicated by metadata provided by the CDC’s contractors. Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut stated that their initial three cases exhibited symptoms typical of COVID-19.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the disease spectrum caused by BA.2.86, further data is required. As Maria Van Kerkhove from the WHO cautioned, it’s essential to refrain from drawing conclusions based on a limited number of cases.

Moreover, COVID-19 hospitalizations had been rising due to less-mutated variants even before BA.2.86’s emergence. Fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that early sightings of this variant have exacerbated these trends. According to the CDC’s assessment, locations where BA.2.86 has been detected have not experienced disproportionate increases in transmission indicators or hospitalizations compared to neighboring areas.

Vaccine Efficacy

Will vaccines remain effective against the new COVID variant BA.2.86? Upcoming vaccines are expected to provide protection against BA.2.86, although more research is needed to confirm this.

The emergence of this variant coincides with the imminent rollout of new COVID-19 vaccines, slated for next month following a meeting of the CDC’s external vaccine advisers on September 12th. These vaccines were originally designed to target the XBB.1.5 variant, which was deemed the most suitable option to enhance immunity against the virus back in June, when the FDA made its selection.

If BA.2.86 were to become dominant, there is concern that the strain’s mutations might reduce the effectiveness of these vaccines. However, experts believe that other aspects of the body’s immune response could still offer protection against the variant. The CDC currently assesses that the updated vaccine “will be effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalization.”

In conclusion, BA.2.86 represents a new chapter in the ever-evolving COVID-19 saga. While it poses questions and concerns, it’s crucial to remember that health authorities and scientists are diligently working



1. What is BA.2.86?

BA.2.86 is a highly mutated variant of the COVID-19 virus, known for its rapid spread and genetic changes.

2. Where has BA.2.86 been detected?

BA.2.86 has been detected in Switzerland, South Africa, Israel, Denmark, the U.S., and the U.K.

3. How does BA.2.86 differ from other variants?

BA.2.86 exhibits unique genetic mutations, particularly in the spike protein, which affects its transmissibility and potential vaccine resistance.

4. Are current vaccines effective against BA.2.86?

Research is ongoing to assess the effectiveness of existing vaccines against this variant, with a focus on potential booster shots.

5. What can individuals do to protect themselves from BA.2.86?

To protect themselves, individuals should adhere to public health guidelines, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and considering booster vaccinations.

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