Is there a ‘stealth omicron’ coronavirus variant? Yes, and here’s what experts say

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·2 min read

A mutation of the omicron coronavirus variant has prompted calls for more research by the World Health Organization.

But the BA.2 sub-variant is not now considered a variant of concern, and it’s unclear whether the mutations alter the transmission or severity of the virus, experts say.

“The BA.2 descendant lineage, which differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries,” a WHO statement reads. “Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA.1.”

BA.1 refers to the original omicron lineage.

Viruses mutate constantly, with most changes having little effect, medical experts say.

“Variants have come, variants have gone,” Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think this one is a whole lot worse than the current version of omicron.”

The sub-variant, dubbed “stealth omicron” by some for possibly being harder to detect, has been found in Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, France, India, Sweden and the United States, Deadline reported.

In the United States, cases have been recorded in Texas, Washington, California and Connecticut.

In Denmark, BA.2 accounts for nearly half the test samples sequenced, Deadline reported.

The original omicron variant was first reported by researchers in South Africa on Nov. 24 after several doctors noticed symptoms among their patients that differed slightly compared to those caused by the delta variant, the dominant version of the germ spreading globally, McClatchy News reported.

Genetic sequencing revealed the variant sports a large number of mutations unseen in other variants.

Federal health officials confirmed the first omicron case in the U.S. on Dec. 1, in a fully vaccinated California resident who recently returned from South Africa, McClatchy News reported.

More than 356 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide with more than 5.6 million deaths as of Tuesday, Jan. 25, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has had more than 71 million confirmed cases with more than 870,000 deaths.

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