A highly-mutated variant of COVID-19, known as Pirola BA.2.86, is “a cause for concern” according to leading scientific experts, who have issued an urgent warning following a spike in global cases.
Pirola was first detected in Denmark on July 24 but since then has made it into 30 other countries and onto the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) watch list.
Researchers at Yale Medicine warn the variant could be a threat because it has more than 30 mutations in its spike protein compared with Omicron variants, cephalexin oral suspension refrigerate and is highly immune evasive.
Clinical microbiologist Paul Griffin said: “There are more than 30 amino-acid changes to the spike protein, which is similar to what we saw with the emergence of Omicron.
“At least at that very early stage, looking at how it’s composed, that does give us some cause for concern, and certainly is one that we have to watch really carefully.”
Is new Covid strain Pirola in the UK?
Experts are concerned because despite only arriving recently, it is fast becoming the dominant strain in the UK with cases doubling every few days.
At the time of writing, there are 54 confirmed cases in the UK, of which 48 are in England and six in Scotland. In England, 10 of those 48 cases resulted in hospitalisations, two of which were found during testing at a hospital emergency department.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said: “BA.2.86 continues to transmit within the UK, with sporadic cases identified in most regions.”
While the UKHSA is remaining tight-lipped until further information about the variant is known, others have gone into more detail about who it might impact and why we know so little about it.
Speaking to the Daily Record, NHS GP Dr Hana Patel said Pirola was “one to watch” because of its new mutations. She added: “It tends to be people who have other health-related issues, so you know, pre-existing lung problems, or heart issues, or a suppressed immune system where they’re more likely to become unwell if they were to get Covid.”
What are the symptoms of the Pirola Covid variant?
According to a fresh ZOE study, the most common symptoms of Pirola include:
- sore throat
- runny nose
- mild or severe fatigue
Professor Stephen Griffith of Leeds University added that a lack of testing had had an impact on our knowledge of Pirola, adding: “It’s not necessarily causing the big waves yet but it may be that in the future, it is the beginning of something else.
“We know it’s definitely able to avoid antibodies in our blood, but we haven’t seen it infect enough people yet to understand how serious it is. I think it’s about being cautious and biding our time.”
Professor Susan Hopkins, of the UKHSA, said: “While this is still very early data and more research is needed before we can be certain, it is encouraging to see an initial indication that BA.2.86 demonstrates similar levels of antibody escape compared to other variants circulating in the UK.
“The available data is too limited to draw conclusions about the severity of the illness it causes, but there is so far no evidence to suggest that it is more likely to make people seriously ill than other Omicron variants in circulation.”
Latest Covid guidelines
There are no legal guidelines in place at present, but the official Government advice is to stay home if you either have a positive Covid test or you have symptoms.
For adults, you should stay home for five days, while children should remain at home for three.
The full guidance reads: “If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people, until you no longer have a high temperature (if you had one) or until you no longer feel unwell.
“It is particularly important to avoid close contact with anyone who you know is at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell if they are infected with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.”
If you leave your home while you have symptoms, you should:
- Wear a face covering
- Avoid crowded areas
- Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough
- Wash your hands regularly
Can you go to school or work with Covid?
There are currently no legal rules in place to bar you or your family from school or work if you test positive for coronavirus. However, the latest Government advice suggests that you stay home during the most infectious period.
For children or those under 18, the advice is to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for three days. This is because young people tend to be less infectious for less time than adults.
For adults, the advice is to “stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, which is when they are most infectious.”
How much are Covid tests now? Where to get them?
Covid lateral flow tests are no longer free to the public. Instead, you will need to buy rapid lateral flow tests, which are available from some pharmacies and retailers, in person or online.
A single test kit from Boots will cost £1.75, or you can buy a pack of five for £8.49.
You may still be able to get free rapid lateral flow tests from the NHS if you:
- have a health condition which means you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatment
- work in healthcare or in a hospice
Where to get Covid boosters and who is eligible
Ahead of Covid’s prime time to spread and cause illness, the Government has begun its autumn vaccination programme with NHS England urging people to get both the Covid and flu jab to avoid a potential “twindemic”.
The aim of this programme is to get as many people vaccinated before a wave hits so their bodies will be better able to cope with a viral attack.
NHS director of vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: “The NHS flu and Covid vaccination programmes have been very effective in protecting those at greatest risk and we will work at speed to ensure they are protected once again this year, starting with care homes and those who are housebound today.”
Professor Hopkins said: The autumn vaccination programme started this month, and this new data shows once again how important it is that the most vulnerable among us are fully vaccinated in order to receive the greatest possible protection. I urge everyone eligible to come forward for their next dose as soon as they are called.”
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