CDC updates risk assessment on BA.2.86

The CDC updated its risk assessment on distant omicron relative BA.2.86 on Aug. 30, saying the strain — which has concerned experts over the large number of mutations it carries — has been detected in at least four states. 

"CDC continues to track the presence of the BA.2.86 [COVID-19] variant," the update said. "Since CDC's initial risk assessment, this variant has been identified in additional countries from both human and wastewater specimens." 

In the U.S., BA.2.86 cases have been detected in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and New York either through human samples or wastewater samples. Separately, Houston Methodist in an Aug. 31 statement emailed to Becker's said it has identified Texas' first reported instance of BA.2.86 through genomic sequencing. The hospital's COVID-19 sequencing team continues to sequence all positive specimens. 

Over the past two weeks, the strain has comprised less than 1 percent of circulating SARS-CoV-2 circulating viruses in the U.S., the CDC's risk assessment said. However, since sequencing efforts have slowed down significantly, experts have said the true prevalence could be higher. 

The CDC said the current uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations the U.S. is seeing is likely driven by XBB lineages, not BA.2.86. Other assessments remain the same: existing tests and medications should still be effective, there is no evidence it causes more severe disease and more data is needed to make firm assessments on transmissibility at immunity. 

Experts told The Atlantic there are three potential scenarios for how BA.2.86 could play out: It could mimic omicron's spread and cause a significant surge — the worst and least likely scenario; it could spread enough to overtake more common strains without driving a new large surge; or it could dissipate. 


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