New COVID Variant Spreading In US And UK: All You Need To Know About BA.4.6

BA.4.6 is a subvariant of the Omicron COVID variant which is increasingly gaining speed in the US and is now confirmed to be spreading in the UK.

By Prerna Targhotra
Wed, 14 Sep 2022 03:02 PM IST
Minute Read
New COVID Variant Spreading In US And UK: All You Need To Know About BA.4.6
Image Courtesy: Reuters

Amid the persistent COVID cases worldwide, a new variant has been reported raising concerns about whether it could lead to another devastating COVID wave. The new COVID variant BA.4.6 is now spreading and has accounted for more than 9 per cent of the recent cases across the United States, news agency PTI reported. BA.4.6 is a subvariant of the Omicron COVID variant which is increasingly gaining speed in the US and is now confirmed to be spreading in the UK.

The latest informatory document from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on COVID variants noted that during the week beginning August 14, BA.4.6 contributed to 3.3 per cent of samples in the UK. It has risen to make up around 9 per cent of sequenced cases. The variant has been identified in numerous other countries worldwide.

What is BA.4.6 Variant

BA.4.6 is said to be the descendant of the BA.4 variant of Omicron. The BA.4 was first reported in January 2022 in South Africa and has been spreading worldwide since then. The emergence of BA.4.6 is not clear, but possibly it could be a recombinant variant. Recombination occurs when two unlike variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infect the same person at the same time.

The BA.4.6 carries a mutation to the spike protein, a protein on the surface of the virus that allows it to enter our cells. This mutation, R346T, has been seen in other variants and is related to immune evasion which means it helps the virus to get escape the antibodies from vaccination and prior infection.

Fortunately, omicron infections cause less serious illness and fewer deaths have been reported with omicron. However, there have been no reports yet that this variant (BA.4.6) is causing more severe symptoms. This new variant appears to be better at evading the immune system than the present dominant variant, BA.5.

As per the UKHSA briefing, early estimates conclude that BA.4.6 has a 6.55 per cent relative fitness advantage over BA.5 in England which implies that BA.4.6 replicates more quickly in the early stages of infection and the growth rate is higher than BA.5. One Prerint study shows that BA.4.6 evades protection from Evusheld (antibody therapy to protect people who are immuno-compromised and don't respond to COVID vaccine).

Meanwhile, the emergence of this new variant BA.4.6 is highly concerning as it shows that the virus is still very much with us and is mutating in search of new ways to overcome the immune response from vaccination and previous infections.

It is known that the people previously affected by the COVID virus can catch the virus infection again, which is particularly true in Omicron. But the vaccination is continually offering good protection to fight the severe disease. The recent approval of bivalent boosters is good news. Apart from this, developing multivalent coronavirus vaccines which target numerous variants can provide more durable protection.

The public is requested to stay cautious and follow the guidelines issued by the public health bodies for the prevention of the spread of what remains a very contagious and dangerous virus.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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