Health officials say they are closely monitoring the spread of three new COVID-19 variants currently spreading across the country.
For the time being, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths remains well below the previous peaks of the past summer and winter waves of the virus, but has been rising steadily since then.
Public health officials have said they are well-armed for the virus' recent seasonal surge as COVID-19 testing and forthcoming vaccines are expected to work against variants that are on the rise across the country.
But the emergence of a new “heavily mutated” variant has made virus trackers wonder what the coming months may bring.
Here's the latest on what we know about the new COVID-19 variants currently on the rise.
What are current new COVID variants?
There are two that are fairly common, and one – the heavily mutated variant – that isn't that common right now. Biweekly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Forecasts of COVID-19 variants prevalent across the country.
It is estimated that the EG.5 variant is the “dominant” strain in the US because it accounts for the largest proportion of new cases of COVID-19 compared to other variants. On August 18, the CDC estimated that EG.5 accounted for 20.6% of new infections.
Behind EG.5 – unofficially nickname “Eris” from virus tracker T. Ryan Gregory on social media – is a long list of other closely related variants, virtually all descended from last winter's dominant XBB strains.
The CDC estimates that FL.1.5.1 is the second largest strain, accounting for 13.3% of US infections. FL.1.5.1, dubbed “Fornax” by Gregory, has almost doubled compared to the previous week when it accounted for an estimated 7.1% of the variants in circulation.
Both EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 are descendants of the XBB variant, sharing a in common mutation Known as F456L, it appears to help them spread more than other viruses.
Authorities have also tracked down a new, severely mutated virus strain called BA.2.86. This variety was nicknamed “Pirola”. User @JPWeiland on social media. The prevalence of BA.2.86 remains too low to appear in the CDC estimates and is currently being aggregated with its distant ancestor BA.2.
while only one small handful of cases have been discovered around the world, including The strain's large number of mutations in some key parts of the virus has accelerated investigation of the risk posed by BA.2.86.
Are symptoms different with new COVID variants?
The COVID symptoms appear to be largely the same. Since the advent of EG.5 and FL.1.5.1, officials have generally downplayed claims of dramatic changes in symptoms caused by these closely related new variants compared to their close Omicron variant relatives from earlier in the pandemic .
There was no proof On August 9, the WHO reported an increased severity of the disease caused by the new EG.5 strain.
Experts say other changes in the population, such as immunity to previous infections and vaccinations, also complicate attempts to compare whether new variants are responsible for the shifts in reported symptoms of the virus.
For the past few months, COVID-19 symptoms appear to have remained largely the same as over the past year, with cold- and flu-like symptoms — cough, headache, muscle aches, runny nose and fatigue — reported mostly.
As for BA.2.86, officials say it's too early to say if this strain will cause more serious diseases due to its worrying array of mutations.
The only Michigan case was “an older adult with mild symptoms and [the patient] was not hospitalized,” Chelsea Wuth, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement to CBS News.
In Denmark health authorities said Their three cases of the BA.2.86 variant presented no “symptoms other than those normally observed” of COVID-19.
The UK said His BA.2.86 case was tested in a London hospital, but it is not currently possible “to assess comparative severity by variant” based on their data.
Do COVID tests work on new COVID variants?
They appear to be working, although that may change as one of the strains becomes more prevalent. The Food and Drug Administration has done this so far nothing new marked Issues with EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants due to ongoing collaborative efforts with the National Institutes of Health to study the performance of COVID-19 testing with new strains. A positive development: Modeling suggests that the variant will not escape testing any better than other previous Omicron strains.
“Now we have mapped the genome and all this information. We also mapped the epitopes for all antigen-based tests. We can do computer analysis to see whether or not we think there will be an impact on test performance,” Todd Merchak, co-lead of the NIH's RADx Tech initiative at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
Merchak said the initiative's “well-oiled machine” was preparing for manual experiments to verify that home COVID tests are less sensitive to EG.5 and other variants, in case the FDA decides to start a new one Review of home COVID tests for the new strains to challenge strains.
“We use the same protocols, so we have comparisons between every test that's on the market, every test that's in development. We can compare them so we have data for everything,” Merchak said.
Experts think it's possible that BA.2.86's extensive changes could change the performance of some tests as it spreads further.
British Health Authorities said It was “unreliable to predict the combined effect of the large number of mutations using BA.2.86”, but conceded that there was enough information “to expect a significant antigenic change”.
Will the fall 2023 COVID vaccine boosters work for new COVID variants?
They are expected to be effective. Vaccine manufacturers anticipate that the upcoming launch of the new COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots next month will also work for EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 as they are closely related to the XBB.1.5 variant which aim the revised vaccinations recommended by the FDA And WHOearlier this year.
“We are trying to select the antigen that offers the greatest possible immunity so that protection for people is as complete as possible, and we expect to allow the virus to evolve between the time of the recommendation and the time the vaccine is manufactured. “Dr. Sylvie Briand from the WHO told reporters on August 9th.
On August 17, Moderna said Preliminary results from data from its human clinical trials suggest that its updated vaccines will elicit a “significant increase in neutralizing antibodies against EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants.” Pfizer says data from a recent study in mice suggests its vaccine will also be effective.
The CDC expects, based on evidence and input from the FDA Advisory Committee, that “the vaccines updated this fall with a monovalent XBB.1.5 composition will best protect public health,” Kathleen Conley, a spokeswoman for the CDC, said in a August 18 statement.
It is unclear whether BA.2.86 could thwart these plans. Experts believe that the strain's mutations could be enough to carry the forthcoming vaccinations “a pretty bad game” if it becomes more widespread.
But for this season, the FDA sees no need to change the formulation of the COVID vaccine, an official said. Another meeting of the external vaccination consultants on this topic is only planned when the preparations for next year's vaccination campaign begin.
“Pending the emergence of a significantly more virulent virus variant that causes COVID-19, the FDA expects to review the vaccine composition in the first half of 2024,” the FDA official said in an Aug. 16 email.