The emergence of a new “highly mutated” Covid-19 variant has sparked fears of a resurgence of the virus around the world, including in Australia.
The Pirola variant, which experts consider the “real deal”, has just been discovered for the first time in Australia, while experts fear it could spread rapidly undetected.
The first Australian case was discovered by a Western Australian laboratory, but there are likely to be many more as very few Covid infections are sent for testing.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) considers Pirola a “variant under surveillance” rather than a “variant of concern”, the WA Department of Health has warned of concern.
“People are encouraged to stay home if they are sick, wash or sanitize their hands regularly, cough and, most importantly, get vaccinated against Covid-19 and flu,” the statement said. .
The Pirola variant of Covid, which experts say is the “real deal”, has been found in Australia for the first time. A woman wearing a mask is photographed
“Keeping up to date with vaccinations remains the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalizations due to Covid.”
Pirola, scientifically called BA.2.86, is a mutated cousin of Omicron and was first detected in Israel and Denmark in August.
It has since spread to the UK, USA, South Africa, Portugal, Sweden, France, Canada, Thailand, Switzerland and now Australia.
It is one of more than 600 Omicron subvariants currently in circulation, according to the WHO.
As with all viruses, Covid is constantly evolving through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in new variants.
Like other new Covid variants, online virus trackers have decided to call BA.2.86 something easier to remember. and I found Pirola.
If the WHO declares this an “interesting variant,” it could be abbreviated to “Pi,” the letter following Omicron in the Greek alphabet – the system officials use to name new strains .
Pirola causes far more concern than other variants because it has 35 mutations on its spike protein, the part of the virus that Covid vaccines are designed to target.
Several Pirola mutations have unknown functions, but others are thought to help the virus evade the immune system.
The genetic jump “is about the same magnitude” as that seen between the initial Omicron variant and the previous Delta variant that the former replaced, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In the UK, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that vaccinations for care home residents and vulnerable adults would start earlier than planned due to Pirola.
While virologists cautioned that it was too early to reliably identify specific symptoms of BA.2.86, its BA.2 ancestor showed telltale signs.
The first Australian case of Pirola was discovered by a Western Australian laboratory, but there are likely to be many more as very few Covid infections are sent for testing. Woman pictured getting Covid vaccine
Experts aren’t sure yet, but if it behaves like similar subvariants of Omicron, signs to watch out for include a runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue.
Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Deakin University, said it was important to “watch and wait” for what happens with Pirola in the coming weeks and months.
“It’s not just about what this variant does and how it might impact us… it’s also about the bigger picture,” Professor Bennett told the ABC.
“What could this mean for our future, if (Pirola) built a new viral genome platform on which more mutations can accumulate?” Where does this leave the virus and what does it mean for us?
Signs (pictured) to watch for with Pirola include runny nose, sore throat and fatigue.