Twitter nicknames BA.2.75, but WHO says it's not official

News outlets have been referring to BA.2.75 — the latest omicron relative catching experts' attention — as "Centaurus," but the World Health Organization has not assigned it a name. 

"It is wild to me that some random guy on Twitter decided that the BA.2.75 variant was going to be known as 'Centaurus' and it completely worked," Ed Yong, a science writer at The Atlantic, wrote in a July 12 tweet. The tweet included an image showing a July 1 post from a Twitter user who wrote, "I have just named BA.2.75 variant after a galaxy. Its new name is Centaurus strain." Several news outlets have since referred to BA.2.75 using the name in headlines. 

The Biden administration's former senior COVID-19 response adviser and former CMS administrator, Andy Slavitt, also referenced the Centaurus nickname in a series of tweets July 13. 

But the World Health Organization has not named it a variant of concern or officially assigned it a name. "There are still limited sequences available to analyze, but this subvariant seems to have a few mutations on the receptor binding domain of the spike protein," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist. "So we have to watch that. It's still too early to know if this subvariant has properties of additional immune evasion or indeed of being more clinically severe — we don't know that." 

The WHO is closely tracking data on the strain, "and if at any time there is an emergence of a virus that looks very different from a previous one enough to be called a separate variant of concern, then the committee will do that," Dr. Swaminathan said. 

The "basis for concern" over the strain is that it appears, based on early sequencing data, to have "[eight] mutations beyond BA.5," Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego, said in a tweet. BA.5 has already been called "the worst version of the virus" yet, based on its ability to evade immunity from vaccination and prior infection. BA.2.75 has been gaining traction in India and has been detected in 10 other countries, including the U.S., where some of the first cases have been identified on the West Coast. 


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