New COVID-19 Strain BA.2.86 Sparks Concern in New York State

New York state health officials are on high alert over a new COVID-19 strain that has been detected in the U.S. and other countries. The strain, named BA.2.86, is a sub-lineage of the omicron variant and has significant mutations that may affect its transmissibility and immune evasion.

What is BA.2.86 and why is it worrisome?

BA.2.86 is a new COVID-19 strain that was identified last week in the U.S., where it has been found in cases in Michigan and Virginia. It has also been reported in Israel, Denmark, and South Africa. The strain is a sub-lineage of the omicron variant, which emerged in November 2021 and became the dominant strain worldwide.

New COVID-19 Strain BA.2.86 Sparks Concern in New York State
New COVID-19 Strain BA.2.86 Sparks Concern in New York State

BA.2.86 is different from other omicron sub-lineages in its genetic structure, which shows more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that attaches to human cells. Some of these mutations are similar to those found in other variants of concern, such as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. These mutations may increase the ability of the virus to infect cells, evade antibodies, and escape vaccines.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated BA.2.86 as a “Variant Under Monitoring”, meaning that it has genetic changes that may affect its characteristics, but there is not enough evidence to classify it as a variant of interest or concern. However, virologists are closely watching the strain and conducting studies to determine its impact on public health.

How is New York state monitoring and responding to BA.2.86?

New York state health officials say they are tracking the “highly divergent” strain and “remain vigilant for changes to the virus that could further threaten our public health” . State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said that the department is looking for the new strain and does not yet know if it will cause more severe disease or if it will evade prior immunity .

To enhance its early detection efforts, the state’s Wadsworth Center Laboratory has collaborated with Syracuse University to analyze both clinical and wastewater samples from across the state. The laboratory uses genomic sequencing to identify the genetic structure of COVID-19 strains that are driving infections, while the university collects and tests wastewater samples to detect the presence of COVID-19 in a geographic area .

The Wadsworth Center experts transferred COVID-19 sequencing information to their collaborators at Syracuse University, who then searched all wastewater data from the last six months to confirm that BA.2.86 was not detected in New York . This process will continue to be used to help monitor for the new strain in wastewater samples, health officials said .

The Wadsworth Center is also coordinating with health care providers and laboratories across the state to expand the pool of clinical COVID-19 samples being submitted for analysis . This enhanced surveillance program provides a greatly increased opportunity for detecting BA.2.86 should it enter the state, according to health officials .

What can New Yorkers do to protect themselves from BA.2.86 and other COVID-19 strains?

As of now, there is no evidence that BA.2.86 is present in New York state, but health officials are urging New Yorkers to remain cautious and follow the recommended prevention measures . These include:

  • Getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 as soon as possible
  • Wearing a mask indoors and in crowded settings
  • Practicing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings
  • Washing hands frequently and using sanitizer
  • Staying home and getting tested if feeling sick or exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Following travel guidelines and quarantine rules

Health officials also advise New Yorkers to stay informed about the latest developments on COVID-19 variants and consult reliable sources of information, such as the state Department of Health website, the WHO website, or their health care providers.

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