Pyrola may be no more of a cause for concern than the wide range of other Covid variants spreading, scientists at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have suggested.
“Encouraging” laboratory tests show that the immunity offered by the shots and previous infections are likely to continue to protect against the strongly mutated strain, the agency said today.
And health chiefs said there is so far “no evidence” that the variant, scientifically called BA.2.86, is more likely to trigger serious illness than other Omicron-derived strains.
While some evidence suggests Pirola could infect people better than other current Covid variants, this “small difference” is unlikely to drive a dramatic rise in cases, experts told MailOnline.
The analysis, published today in a UKHSA report, confirmed that total cases in the UK had risen to 54 as of September 18, an increase of 12 in a week.
Total cases in the UK Pirola cases rose to 54 as of September 18, an increase of 12 in a week.
Globally, 137 cases of the new ‘real’ mutated Covid strain have been identified in 15 countries
Of these cases, 10 have been hospitalized, although no deaths have yet been reported.
However, health officials said that because many cases have only been detected incidentally among people undergoing routine hospital testing, this data cannot be used to estimate the likelihood of severe illness from the variant. tosomeone.
Pirola caused alarm in some quarters when it burst onto the scene last month due to its heavily mutated nature.
This series of genetic changes raised fears that it could be so radically different that it would be able to dodge the protection offered by injections and prior infection with other strains of Covid.
The UKHSA laboratory analysis, published today, suggests that Pirola appears to have a greater ability to infect human cells than other Omicron descendants currently circulating.
However, separate tests, which measured the effectiveness of people’s current Covid antibodies, the part of the immune system that attacks the virus, against Priola, were encouraging.
These showed that Pirola had no greater ability to evade people’s antibodies than XBB.1.5, also called Kraken, a descendant of Omicron.
Kraken caught global attention earlier this year as potentially the next big Covid variant. But it now accounts for just one in 20 cases in the UK.
UKHSA chief medical adviser Professor Susan Hopkins said the data in the early days was “encouraging”.
She said: “While this is still very early data and more research is needed before we can be sure, it is encouraging to see an initial indication that BA.2.86 demonstrates similar levels of antibody escape compared to other variants circulating in the United Kingdom.
“The available data are too limited to draw conclusions about the severity of the disease it causes, but so far there is no evidence to suggest it is more likely to make people seriously ill than other Omicron variants in circulation.”
He added that the data was yet another reason to take part in the NHS Covid vaccination programme, which was accelerated due to concerns around Pirola and winter pressures.
“The autumn vaccination program began this month and this new data shows once again how important it is that the most vulnerable among us are fully vaccinated to receive the greatest possible protection,” he said.
“I urge everyone eligible to come forward for their next dose as soon as they are called.”
Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, said that while it is still “in its early days”, the data suggests Pirola is no worse than other circulating variants.
He said: ‘Several studies indicate it may be no better at escaping current population immunity than the other versions of Covid currently circulating.
‘Although these are quite preliminary studies, the signs are encouraging.
In a bid to “get back to normal,” invitations will not be distributed to millions of people ages 50 to 64 who were eligible during the pandemic.
While virologists have cautioned that it is too early to reliably identify the specific symptoms of BA.2.86, its ancestor BA.2 had some telltale signs. Experts are not yet sure, however, if it behaves like similar subvariants of Omicron, signs to look out for include runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue.
“Based on data from two different research teams, it appears that BA.2.86 adheres slightly better to our cells when we are infected, but such small differences often do not translate into real-world effects.”
Of the 54 known cases of Pirola in the United Kingdom, 48 have been detected in England and the rest in Scotland.
The vast majority of England’s cases come from a single massive outbreak of 30 cases at a care home in Norfolk in late August.
Of the remaining 18, seven were in London, three in the north-west, two in the north-east and one in the east of England, one in the south-east, one in the south-west and one in the West Midlands.
But as Covid testing and genomic analysis of virus samples in the UK has been greatly reduced since the height of the Covid pandemic, there are likely to be many more cases of community spread of the virus.
Worldwide, 137 cases of Priola have been identified in 15 countries.
These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
Wastewater samples in Thailand also tested positive for Pirola.
The autumn Covid vaccine rollout began last week, with care home residents and homebound people the first to receive additional Covid and flu jabs.
People over 65, frontline health and social care workers and carers are also eligible to receive Covid and flu vaccines.
People from 6 months to 64 years old in a clinical risk group will also be invited.
This group includes people with chronic respiratory, heart, kidney or liver diseases, as well as people with diabetes, pregnant women and people with morbid obesity.
GPs and other local NHS services are also contacting people to offer vaccines.
Covid hospitalizations in England soared to a four-month high earlier this month with 3,297 people admitted in the week ending September 8.
Admissions have fallen slightly to 2,767 in the week to September 15, the latest data available.
The figure is still higher than that of June, July and August, when weekly entries fell to 757.
But we are still far from the darkest days of the Covid pandemic, when England saw up to 26,000 viewers a week.