Corona has reinvented itself; variants are also with us

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The coronavirus has spawned a new strain: KP.2 may not necessarily be more contagious than its predecessors, but it spreads faster and can better circumvent the current vaccination’s immune protection.
Sars-Cov-2 does not take a summer break, as we have known at least since the Omicron variant BA.5. Now the virus has evolved again.

Things have been quiet around the coronavirus recently. No wonder the winter is over, and JN.1 is probably the highest coronavirus wave ever. The successor to the long-dominant ‘Pirola’ line evaded the frontline defences of immunised people more successfully than before any coronavirus variant.
Thanks to widespread cellular immunity and vaccination protection against other virus variants, cold symptoms or fever were usually the only symptoms. The virus has evolved rapidly, giving rise to the ‘FLiRT’ variant family from the Omikron lineage. However, within this group of JN.1 derivatives, one particular variant is causing increasing concern: KP.2.

In the USA, the variant was responsible for around 25 percent of newly sequenced cases, and KP.2 also arrived in Austria some time ago. Since the end of 2023, the new Omikron derivative has also been used sporadically in Austrian wastewater monitoring. However, according to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (Ages), KP.2 has not yet been found in the sequenced cases. Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 have also fallen continuously since January.

There is currently too little information to say whether this or another FLiRT variant could cause concern. What is certain is that KP.2 is now on the rise in the USA, but it is not yet possible to say whether this will lead to a significant wave in the coming months, US physician and scientist Eric Topol told Time magazine.
‘It could be a “wavelet”. Since people recently infected with the JN.1 variant have some protection against re-infection,’ said Topol. In addition, the virus has not mutated enough to be very different from the previous strains. This is shown by a preprint from Japanese researchers. Their study found that KP.2 is less contagious than JN.1.

At the same time, however, the scientists found that KP.2 has better epidemiological fitness than its predecessor strains. Their conclusion: the variant spread rapidly in the USA, the UK and Canada. In the UK, it already accounted for 20 per cent of infections at the beginning of April. This indicates that KP. 2 can potentially become the predominant strain worldwide.

Two further studies from Japan and China also show that the FLiRT variants may be even better at evading immune protection from vaccines than JN.1, which is not a good sign as many recently received a booster vaccination last autumn. ‘This means their protection is starting to wane,’ says Topol.

But here, too, there is a further development: it was only at the end of April that the World Health Organization (WHO) published a recommendation that future vaccine formulations should be based on the JN.1 line. The reasoning behind this is that the virus will, to all appearances, evolve from this variant.

The most recent booster was based on the XBB.1.5 strain, which triggered a wave at the beginning of 2023.

  • source: heute.at/picture: pixabay.com
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