A new sub-variant of the dominant COVID-19 Omicron strain could be on the rise, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new strain, dubbed the “stealth” Omicron variant because it’s difficult to identify due to a lack of certain genetic characteristics, appears to be on the rise, with confirmed cases of the virus in at least 40 countries, including the United States.
According to the WHO, Omicron, which is known as B.1.1.529, has three sub-variants: the original BA.1 that remains the dominant strain, the “stealth” BA.2, which is picking up steam, and the more elusive BA.3.
Researcher and author Vipin Vashishta said that BA.2 shares 32 mutations with BA.1, but 28 unique mutations as the investigation into the variant continues.
“The BA. 2 descendant lineage, which differs from BA. 1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries,” the WHO wrote on its website.
“Investigations into the characteristics of BA. 2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA. 1.”
The “stealth” variant was first found in increasing numbers overseas in Norway, according to researchers, as the number of cases multiplied by nearly 1,000 percent between Tuesday, Jan. 4 and Wednesday, Jan. 19.
A large number of cases have also been reported in India, Denmark, the UK, and dozens of other countries, officials noted.
“During the same period, the relative frequency of BA.1 has dropped,” according to a statement from the Danish Ministry of Health. “BA.1 and BA.2 have many differences in their mutations in the most important areas. In fact, the difference between BA.1 and BA.2 is greater than the difference between the original variant and the Alpha variant."
“Early analyses suggest an increased growth rate compared to BA.1,” researchers added. “However, growth rates have a low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant, and further analysis is needed.”
In the US, at least one case of the “stealth” Omicron variant has been confirmed by the Washington State Health Department earlier in January. There were also multiple cases reported at Houston’s Methodist Hospital.
“It’s too early to tell if we are going to see more cases of this variant,” a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Health stated. “So far, fewer than 100 confirmed BA.2 cases in the U.S. have been reported.”
In a Washington Post report, an anonymous source in President Joe Biden’s administration said that “there is concern about the omicron BA.2 variant.” Because of the increase in cases overseas, the person said the U.S. is gearing up and “paying close attention to the BA.2 variant.”
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