New Covid-19 variant ‘Pirola’ (BA.2.86): Is it more dangerous, should India be worried?

New Covid-19 variant ‘Pirola’ (BA.2.86): Is it more dangerous, should India be worried?
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Recent reports from the United States, United Kingdom, and China suggest a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, with growing concerns about a new strain known as Pirola or BA.2.86. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has highlighted this variant as a higher-risk strain due to its increased infectivity across various regions.

Interestingly, the Pirola variant appears to be milder than the original COVID-19 strain and even the deadly Delta variant that claimed millions of lives during the earlier waves of the pandemic. Dr. Pavithra Venkatagopalan notes that the Pirola variant has undergone significant changes, much like the Omicron variant did compared to the Delta variant.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Principal Secretary, PK Mishra, recently chaired a high-level meeting to assess the global and national COVID-19 situation, including newer variants and their potential public health impact. This meeting comes in response to reports of the detection of various SARS-CoV-2 variants globally.

Is the Pirola Variant Highly Dangerous?

Assessing the danger of the Pirola variant remains challenging due to the limited availability of samples. Only nine samples of the BA.2.86 variant have been received, which may not represent the total number of cases, as reported by Reuters.

The CDC has raised concerns that the Pirola variant could potentially affect individuals who have previously recovered from another variant of the coronavirus or have been vaccinated against COVID-19, suggesting a higher likelihood of breakthrough infections compared to previous strains.

According to health experts, the Pirola variant is notable for its 35 new mutations, setting it apart from previously known COVID-19 variants.

Where Has the Pirola Variant Been Detected?

Cases of the Pirola variant of coronavirus have been reported in several countries, including Denmark, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The BA.2.86 variant was first identified on July 24, 2023, and has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its significant number of mutations, surpassing those observed in earlier variants.

How Does the Pirola Variant Spread?

Dr. Kuldeep Kumar Grover, Head of Critical Care at CK Birla Hospital in Gurugram, has stated that both the BA.2.86 and Eris variants spread through respiratory droplets.

Symptoms of the Pirola (BA.2.86) and Eris Variants

Health experts have identified specific symptoms associated with the Pirola variant, including rashes, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and diarrhea. In contrast, symptoms of the Eris variant include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste and smell, sore throat, and more.

The Potential Danger of the Pirola Variant

Numerous media reports suggest that the substantial mutations in the spike protein of BA.2.86 raise concerns about potential immune evasion. This indicates that existing vaccines and prior COVID-19 infections may provide less protection against this variant compared to earlier strains of the virus. Vigilance and further research are necessary to understand the full implications of the Pirola variant on public health.

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