A new Covid variant has been detected that could spark a new wave of infections 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 was detected in a Covid sample in Michigan.
The discovery comes less than a day after experts told DailyMail.com that the virus was “probably” already on US soil and was likely spreading rapidly around the world.
To date, a total of six cases have been detected in four countries: the US, Israel, Denmark and the UK, with more cases likely to be detected in the coming days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday that they were 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 cleavage, 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 variants of Covid 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 aware of the variant.
In announcing the case in the US, the CDC said it was “tracking” a new lineage of the virus that causes covid.
‘This lineage is called 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, the CDC’s advice on how to protect yourself from Covid remains the same.”
Alarm bells about the strain were first raised earlier this week due to the 30 mutations it carried.
Its detection quickly sparked 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 tried to assuage fears by saying they didn’t think lockdown-era restrictions were necessary.
Although several cases of BA.X. were detected in four countries, due to delays in testing and reporting, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days.
The new lineage “goes 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 outperform other strains of the virus or if it has any advantage in escaping immune responses from a previous infection or vaccination.
Early analyzes indicate that the new variant “will have equal or greater escape of antibodies elicited by the 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 rising from record lows. In the last week for which data is available, there were about 10,000 admissions, 14% more than the previous week.
However, deaths from covid remain static, although it takes longer for someone who has contracted covid to be hospitalized and then die from an infection.
The Bloom report notes that 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 larger increase in cases than we’ve seen in recent surges,” Dr. Long said. “The reinforcements will still help you fight Covid in general.”
On Thursday, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and leader of the Covid response at WHO, warned that there is very limited information available on the strain, saying it needs follow-up due to its large number of mutations.
Surveillance and sequencing are “critical” to detect new variants and track down known ones, he added.
The new detection in Michigan comes as US covid hospital admissions rise 15 percent in a week, though they are rising from record lows to 10,000 admissions every seven days.
However, deaths remain low, now around 480 being recorded every seven days.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, warned that another variant of Covid, EG.5, was also spreading rapidly in the US.
Earlier this week, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned that covid cases were rising 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 rapidly.
The scientists stress, however, that there is no indication that EG.5 is more likely to cause serious illness and death than previous strains.
Speaking on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Dr. Gottlieb said: “There is nothing to suggest that this particular strain (EG.5) circulating in the United States right now is more pathogenic than previous variants.”
Monitoring shows that the variant is currently behind nearly one in five cases in the US, but Dr. Gottlieb says the true number is probably closer to half.
Last week, the WHO labeled the strain a “variant of interest” because it was spreading so quickly.
But he added that a more comprehensive analysis of this strain was also needed to assess the risk it posed.