As officials have confirmed, Health Canada is monitoring a new COVID-19 variant that has been detected in several countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Added BA.2.86 added to its list of COVID-19 variants being monitored on Thursday.
Although no cases of BA.2.86 have yet been confirmed in Canada, Health Canada told CTVNews.ca that it is also monitoring all possible cases.
“The Canadian government has a strong provincial and territorial surveillance program in place to identify COVID-19 variants in Canada,” the federal Department of Health said in an emailed statement Monday.
“Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) scientists, along with national and international experts, are actively monitoring and evaluating the BA.2.86 lines and associated studies.”
According to the open global genome sequencing database, the new variant has been detected in Denmark, Israel and the United States since late July GISAID.
Epidemiologists and infectious disease experts claim that the emergence of this new variant is not yet a cause for concern.
“People should be careful about jumping to conclusions,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto-based infectious disease expert, during a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Monday.
“We are currently at six genotypes from four countries on three continents. That's all,” he said. “So we know what the genetic makeup looks like, and there are components of that that will certainly cause a stir, but that's about all we know.”
Bogoch explained that this emerging variant differs from newer mutations of COVID-19.
“There were components of this mutation that were reminiscent of BA2, which we saw much earlier in the Omicron era,” he said. “There was [also] Components similar to the Delta mutations.”
Because the detection of this mutation is early, not enough information is known about the transmissibility of BA.2.86, Bogoch said.
“We don't know anything about what we would call virulence – how hard a hit is [a variant] that's how it would pack.”
Bogoch added that detection tactics such as sewage monitoring have proven “extremely important”.
“Genotyping,” a component of pathogen surveillance networks, allows scientists to observe changes in viruses in multiple regions — through effluent or clinical diagnosis — and then share data with open-source public networks, he explained.
dr Tyson Graber, a research associate at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa who helped discover earlier variant mutations in wastewater research, also stressed that it's too early to tell how transmissible the virus will be.
“BA.2.86 is not yet contributing to the current wave that has started in many places in Europe, the US and here in Canada,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. “But clinical and wastewater monitoring networks in Ontario are providing the public with excellent situational awareness as we head into an uncertain fall pandemic phase.”
According to WHO, all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2the virus that causes COVID-19 change over time.
“Most changes have little or no impact on the properties of the virus. However, some changes may affect the characteristics of the virus, such as the speed of spread, the associated severity of the disease, or the performance of vaccines, therapeutic drugs, diagnostic tools, or other public health and social measures,” the organization's website reads.
Bogoch believes the important part of this new COVID-19 lineage is that these cases were “detected early.”
“They got shared around the world pretty quickly,” he said. “And we'll learn a lot more about this in the coming weeks as more genomes are uploaded into the system.” It's still too early to know if anything will come of it or not.”