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Watch out for new mutant strain

PETALING JAYA: The BA.2.86 subvariant of the Covid-19 virus, known as Pirola, has not landed in Malaysia yet but this newly-detected, highly-mutated variant of Omicron has raised concerns in countries such as the United States and Britain.

Public health expert Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the BA.2.86 subvariant was highly infectious and could easily spread.

As such, he urged the public to get a booster shot and complete their recommended vaccination schedule.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia professor of public health Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said the subvariant might be potentially more transmissible because its spike protein could undergo up to 30 mutations.

However, she said some experts were of the opinion that it might just pass us by without having a significant effect.

“Treatments such as antivirals like Paxlovid are still efficacious with current strains. Even if people get reinfected by BA.2.86, the immune memory will still allow their immune system to kick in and control the infection far more effectively as many have received their booster doses.

“The current advice is still the same – get your boosters, wear masks in public spaces, wash your hands and maintain good ventilation. It is expected that new vaccines against the new strains will be available soon,” added Prof Sharifa Ezat.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s associate professor of virology Dr Chee Hui Yee said it was still too early to conclude how dangerous the subvariant was as only some 31 genomic sequences of the Pirola variant had been recorded with the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

“Close monitoring and observation are needed and I would like to suggest for Malaysia to do whole genome sequencing on more recent samples to track the variant,” she said.

“We can live our lives as usual, but take more precautions when travelling overseas.”The subvariant has also been found in wastewater samples in several countries, including Britain and Thailand.

First found in Denmark in July, the subvariant has also been detected in South Africa, Portugal, Thailand, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada.

The United States is also expecting updated versions of Covid-19 vaccines that have been tweaked to enable the body to ward off the current variants. In the meantime, Britain is fast-tracking its flu and Covid-19 vaccination drive for care home residents and those immunocompromised as a precautionary measure.While studies are ongoing to ascertain the traits and the effects of Pirola, sore throat, cough, headaches and a runny or blocked nose are said to be some of the symptoms.

On Aug 30, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was monitoring the Pirola variant, adding that it was still too soon to ascertain its impact and degree of transmissibility.Based on an examination of Pirola’s mutation profile, the CDC said treatments such as Paxlovid, remdesivir and molnupiravir would be effective.

In the Yale Medicine Bulletin published on Aug 31, infectious disease specialist Dr Scott Roberts said the strain had been detected in at least six countries and that the cases were unrelated.

This, he said, suggested that there was some degree of transmission in the international community that had not been detected.Dr Roberts said with a greater degree of herd immunity as a result of infection and vaccination, the world was not as vulnerable to severe illness or infection from the coronavirus as it was at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

“Since the original version of SARS-CoV-2, many people have got infected, and many have been boosted. However, for many of us, it might have been a year or more since we’ve had a booster, so I would encourage everyone to get the updated shot, which is expected to come out in mid-September,” he added.

 

Tarikh Input: 13/09/2023 | Kemaskini: 13/09/2023 | norashiqin

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