July 18, 2022 – Will Omicron’s newest subvariant, BA.2.75, be the next one to worry about?
It was first found in early June in India. As of July 17, it had been found in 15 countries, including seven states in the U.S., according to an Arkansas State University professor who has been tracking the variant.
The World Health Organization says it is watching the variant closely.
Infectious disease experts say there’s no cause for alarm – yet – but the variant should be watched.
“Although detected in many other countries [besides India], there is no sign that it is spreading [in those countries],” says Eric Topol, MD, editor-in-chief of Medscape, WebMD’s sister site for health care professionals, and executive vice president of Scripps Research. “Any worry about this variant seems to be misplaced, at least at this juncture.”
“I wouldn’t panic yet,” agrees Rajendram Rajnarayanan, PhD, an assistant dean of research and associate professor at Arkansas State University, who has been tracking BA.2.75.
But he is concerned about its spread. Right now, he says, it’s spreading faster than the BA.5 variant in India. He predicts that BA.2.75 will spread more in the United Kingdom next (where it’s already arrived) and then increase in the U.S. “This is exactly the pattern we’ve seen with every other variant,” he says.
As of July 17, he had tracked just 14 cases in seven states: California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
By September, it could peak in the U.S., he says. “Right now, BA.2.75. seems to be the fastest of them all” in terms of spread. But like other variants, it could follow the 2-month cycle and begin to decline by October, Rajnarayanan says.
In a lab analysis posted on Twitter, Peking University professor Yunlong Cao found that BA.2.75 is more likely than BA.2.12.1 (which, before BA. 5, was the dominant variant in the U.S.) to escape detection by the immune system.
But laboratory analysis “is only half the equation,” says Peter Chin-Hong, MD, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. Many other things play into whether a variant will spread. “It’s too early to tell from a virus perspective what will happen,” he says of the new variant.
As infectious disease experts debate the course of 2.75, some also discuss the naming of variants. The World Health Organization has been using letters of the Greek alphabet to name some variants.
But on July 1, Twitter user Xabier Ostale, who’s not an infectious disease professional, apparently tired of waiting for BA.2.75 to get a Greek name and took the task on himself. In a tweet, he dubbed the new variant Centaurus, after a constellation and from Greek mythology describing a half-human, half-horse creature. The name has stuck and is now a popular on Twitter and in news reports.
Having a name, instead of a string of letters and numbers, helps get messages across to the public, says Rajnarayanan, who’s started to use #Centaurus on his Twitter posts. He would encourage the World Health Organization to name all the variants. “You want to make sure people have something easy to go by,” he says.