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New coronavirus mutant raises concerns in India and beyond

The rapidly evolving coronavirus has spawned another super-contagious omicron mutant that is worrying scientists as it gains traction in India and appears in many other countries, including the United States.

Scientists say the variant – called BA.2.75 – may be able to spread quickly and evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections. It is unclear whether it could cause more severe disease than other omicron variants, including the world famous BA.5.

“It’s still very early for us to draw too many conclusions,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But it looks like, especially in India, transmission rates are showing a kind of exponential increase.” It remains to be seen whether it will surpass BA.5, he said.

Still, the fact that it has already been detected in many parts of the world, even with lower virus surveillance levels “is an early indication that it is spreading,” said Shishi Luo, infectious disease manager for Helix. , a company that provides viral sequencing. information to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest mutant has been spotted in several remote states in India and appears to be spreading there faster than other variants, said Lipi Thukral, a scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology at New Delhi. It has also been detected in a dozen other countries, including Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Two cases were recently identified on the US West Coast and Helix identified a third US case last week.

Expert concerns are fueled by a large number of mutations separating this new variant from omicron’s predecessors. Some of these mutations are in domains related to the spike protein and could allow the virus to bind to cells more efficiently, Binnicker said.

Another concern is that the genetic changes could make it easier for the virus to circumvent antibodies – protective proteins made by the body in response to a vaccine or infection with an earlier variant.

But experts say vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against severe COVID-19. In the fall, it is likely that the United States will see updated formulations of the vaccine being developed that target newer omicron strains.

“Some may say, ‘Well, the vaccination and the booster didn’t stop people from getting infected.’ And, yes, that’s true,” he said. “But what we’ve seen is that the rate of people ending up in hospital and dying has come down dramatically. more people have been vaccinated, boosted or naturally infected, we are starting to see background levels of immunity around the world climbing.”

It may take several weeks to find out if the latest omicron mutant can affect the trajectory of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Dr Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at India’s Christian Medical College, Vellore, said growing concern over the variant underscores the need for greater efforts to track and trace viruses that combine efforts genetics with real-world information on who gets sick and how badly. “It is important that monitoring is not a start-stop strategy,” she said.

Luo said BA.2.75 is another reminder that the coronavirus is continually evolving — and spreading.

“We would love to go back to pre-pandemic life, but we still have to be careful,” she said. “We have to accept that we now live with a higher level of risk than before.”


Ghosal reported from New Delhi. Ungar reported from Louisville, Kentucky.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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