As EG.5, the predominant coronavirus strain spreads across the country, public health officials have voiced concerns about another new variant, BA.2.86, which has been nicknamed “Pirola.”
A newly designed version of Omicron, BA.2.86 has more than 30 mutations to its spike protein, a higher number compared to previously detected Omicron subvariants, according to Yale Medicine. While cases have surfaced in the U.S. and five other countries, they don’t appear to be related, which is especially concerning for health officials.
Since “Pirola” has so many mutations, medical experts question if it has the potential to bypass immune defenses both from natural infection and prior vaccination, said Dr. Scott Roberts, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist.
“The biggest concern has been the number of mutation differences with BA.2.86,” he said. “When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, that was maybe one or two mutations, and they were expected. With every respiratory virus, as it spreads from person to person, it evolves gradually over time. But these massive shifts, which we also saw from Delta to Omicron, are worrisome.”
In a risk assessment dated Aug. 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was no evidence that the variant was causing more severe illness, but noted that could potentially change over time. BA.2.86 has even been detected in wastewater, the assessment added. While the CDC didn’t specify where a specimen that tested positive was collected, authorities in New York City confirmed BA.2.86 was detected in its wastewater.
In Chicago, that isn’t the case, however. The Chicago Department of Public Health said on Wednesday that the variant hadn’t been found in its wastewater.
When it comes to symptoms, much remains unknown, health officials asserted.
Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, told TODAY.com that there was no data on symptoms associated with BA.2.86 infections because the case numbers are just too small.
But if you do suspect you’ve contracted COVID, here are some symptoms you might experience:
As is the case with other strains, existing tests and medications used to treat COVID-19 “appear to be effective” with treating BA.2.86, according to the CDC.
EG.5, meanwhile, also known as “Eris,” is likely more transmissible than the previously-dominant XBB.1.16 variant, according to experts at Yale Medicine. According to Yale officials, EG.5 has a a spike protein mutation that allows it to evade some immunity acquired from infection or vaccination, but officials do not believe it causes more-severe illness in most cases.
However, some may wonder if it causes any unique symptoms from other Omicron variants.
The answer, at least for now, appears to be no, according to the CDC and to Yale Medicine. It typically causes symptoms in a patient’s upper-respiratory tract, including runny nose, sore throat, and other cold-like symptoms.
Fever can occur, as can changes in taste and smell.
In patients with compromised immune systems, or those 65 and older, the virus can still cause issues in lower parts of the respiratory tract, which can lead more severe illness.
The good news? A new booster shot currently being formulated by Moderna, Pfizer and Novovax will specifically target the XBB.1.5 subvariant, and is expected to boost immunity to EG.5 as well, according to officials.
That new booster should be available in the coming weeks, according to experts.