‘Highly mutated’ COVID-19 variant detected in Australia

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The first case of the “highly mutated” COVID-19 variant BA.2.86, colloquially known as Pirola, has been detected in Australia.

Western Australia‘s health department has confirmed to 9news.com.au it has conducted genomic sequencing on a local case which shows it is “without significant differences” to BA.2.86 variants found overseas that have sparked global concern.

The new variant has so far been detected in 15 countries through genomic sequencing.

READ MORE: What the COVID-19 inquiry will look at – and what it won’t

Pirola appears to have evolved from the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which was widely circulating in early 2022.

New mutated versions of COVID-19 pop up frequently, but this one has caught the attention of scientists due to the large number of mutations compared to its predecessor, Omicron subvariant BA.2.

The variant BA.2.86 has 33 changes to its spike proteins – the spikey outer part of the virus that allows it to enter its host.

This is of the same magnitude as the number of changes found in Omicron compared to its forerunner Delta which saw it sweep the world. 

The World Health Organisation classified BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring” on August 18.

This is below the classification of “variant of concern”, which would prompt the variant to get a Greek letter name like Delta or Omicron.

The United Kingdom has accelerated its vaccination program for health workers and vulnerable groups in response to the spread of the strain there.

Variant BA.2.86 so far isn’t behaving significantly differently to previous variants and there is no indication that it causes different or more severe symptoms.

However, the number of mutations has scientists concerned that it may prove resistant to current vaccines which were modelled on other variants.

Vaccine manufacturer Moderna has released research suggesting its latest booster shot helped protect against BA.2.86, despite being modelled on a different variant.

WA Health simply encouraged the public to maintain current recommendations for protecting against COVID-19, including washing and sanitising hands, covering coughs and staying home if unwell.


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