Nearly 10% of the latest COVID-19 cases in the United States are a result of the BA.2.86 variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is almost three times the previous estimate of this highly mutated variant’s prevalence, which further increases concerns due to the surge of cases in the Northeast of the country.
While the majority of recent cases have been attributed to the XBB variant and a multitude of its descendants, new data reveals that the BA.2.86 variant is rapidly becoming more prominent. The CDC’s estimates indicate wide margins of error, ranging from 4.8% to 15.2%, implying the need for further close monitoring to understand the scope of this alarming surge in cases.
The World Health Organization has also classified the BA.2.86 and its offspring as a “variant of interest”. However, further analysis of the new BA.2.86 strain suggests that it does not cause more severe symptoms than other strains, reassuring that current COVID-19 vaccines will likely provide some level of protection.
Recently, experts have detected an increase in a BA.2.86 descendant, JN.1, which has quickly become the fastest-growing subvariant across the world. While early findings suggest that this season’s COVID-19 vaccines will still offer some form of protection, the JN.1 variant shows signs of being more resistant to neutralizing antibodies from vaccination or prior infection compared to other emerging variants.
These emerging reports come at a time when the CDC has noted a renewed increase in indicators measuring the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. Following weeks of declining or stable trends, the agency reported a rise in emergency department visits nationwide. With this increase, it is crucial to closely monitor these new variants and understand how it will affect the population in the coming weeks and months.