WHO Monitoring Highly Mutated New Strain of COVID-19, Now Spotted in Michigan

Four known cases of the variant, dubbed BA.2.86, have so far been identified worldwide, including the case in Michigan

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FRIDAY, Aug. 18, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- A new COVID-19 variant with very few known cases but many mutations has been swiftly moved into the World Health Organization "variant under monitoring" classification.

So far, four known cases of the variant, dubbed BA.2.86, have been identified worldwide, including one case in Michigan. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that it is tracking the new variant.

More data are needed to understand whether or not the variant will be dangerous with its many mutations, the WHO said. BA.2.86 includes dozens of genetic changes, CBS News reported. That is similar to the differences observed when the original omicron variant emerged in 2021.

It is possible the variant has been spreading undetected for some time, because there are reports of it in countries on three continents. In addition to the United States, cases have now been spotted in Denmark and Israel, CBS News reported.

The University of Michigan reported the first U.S. case as part of "baseline surveillance" at the university's clinical microbiology lab. Some of the mutations are in parts of the virus that could help it evade immunity provided by prior vaccination or infection.

Other questions remain, including whether BA.2.86 can outcompete existing, fast-spreading strains descended from the XBB omicron variant that now predominate. If it fails to do so, it may not pose any threat, experts believe.

One such XBB descendent, the EG.5 variant, is steadily climbing in dominance and now makes up one in every five COVID-19 cases in the United States, the CDC said. Right now, the agency said BA.2.86 will remain grouped with its forbearer omicron BA.2 until it reaches at least 1 percent of known cases.

BA.2.86 is emerging just as vaccine makers are preparing rollouts of a new generation of COVID-19 vaccines, due for launch in September. Those shots are targeted to the XBB strains of the virus, of which EG.5 is closely related, CBS News reported.

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