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U.S. News

Cases Of New COVID Variant Have Tripled In 2 Weeks

By CM Chaney · November 30, 2023

In brief…

  • Cases of variant BA.2.86 have jumped 300% to 5-15% of US COVID cases
  • Not driving hospitalization spikes so far; vaccines still protective
  • Growth may be from COVID season, not mutation evasion
  • High-risk people should remain vigilant and talk to doctors about boosters
  • High-risk groups include elderly, immunocompromised, frontline workers
While cases of the COVID variant BA.2.86 have tripled lately to comprise over 5% of US infections, risks have stayed low so far since existing immunity still works well against it, though high-risk groups should continue vigilance like masking and discuss boosters.  IAEA Imagebank / Wikimedia

Infections from the COVID-19 variant Omicron BA.2.86, nicknamed “Pirola,” have jumped threefold in two weeks, now comprising 5-15% of all U.S. cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

Though more prevalent, BA.2.86 “does not appear to be driving increases in infections or hospitalizations,” the CDC stated.

The World Health Organization classified BA.2.86 and offshoots like JN.1 as “variants of interest.” But both organizations say “the public health risk posed by this variant is low compared with other circulating variants.”

The CDC believes updated COVID vaccines approved in September “increase protection against BA.2.86.” Richard Reithinger of the International Development Group said, “existing vaccines have been very effective” at preventing symptoms, hospitalization, and death.

It’s unclear if BA.2.86 has different symptoms, but the CDC said effects mostly “depend more on a person’s immunity.” The variant should also respond to current tests and treatments.

Though the pandemic is over, Reithinger warned that COVID-19 persists. BA.2.86’s 35 spike protein mutations raised concerns about immunity evasion, but “early clinical data does not seem to indicate this.” Instead, growth likely owes to the “COVID-19 season” and enough non-BA.2.86 immunity, he said.

Beyond vaccines, Reithinger advises masks, handwashing, and avoiding crowds, especially for high-risk groups. “People — particularly those with greater risk of infection and severe disease — should continue to be sensitized and vigilant about COVID-19,” he said. He recommends high-risk people consult doctors about boosters.

High-risk groups include those over 60, the immunocompromised, those with conditions like diabetes, and frontline workers, Reithinger noted.