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The reason why the new variant of covid-19 is called the Hound of Hades

The new Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been named ‘Cerberus’ in Germany, after the multi-headed dog that guards the gates to Hades.

The new Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been named ‘Cerberus’ in Germany, after the multi-headed dog that guards the gates to Hades.

Cases of the new Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been growing rapidly in the U.S., and have now been detected in five European Union countries, including Spain, and are expected to cause an exponential increase in infections over the coming weeks.

In France they already account for 25% of cases, 10% of new infections in Belgium and 5% of new infections in Italy. In Spain, at the moment, they represent 2.7% of active infections, and are expected to be the dominant strain by the end of November or the beginning of December, according to the Minister of Health ,Carolina Darias.

According to Gregory Poland, a scientist at Mayo Clinic: “These variants (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1) can quite possibly lead to a very bad surge of illness this winter in the U.S. as it’s already starting to happen in Europe and the UK.”

New Omicron variants of interest

The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) designated sublineage BQ.1 and its sublineages, such as BQ.1.1, as variants of interest . Based on their current prevalence and the rate of growth that is being observed, the European body believes that these variants will exceed 50% of cases in Europe at the end of November or beginning of December.

For Carolina Darias, it could mean a higher rate of infections bypassing immunisation; she asked vulnerable groups to get vaccinated in the first phase of the fall campaign, which is focused on those over 60, with the aim of ensuring that the arrival of autumn and the cold weather has a lower impact than would otherwise be the case.

Scientists fear that the number of mutations may cause the antibodies already generated by the new vaccines and previous infections during the pandemic to fail to recognize the virus in its latest evolutionary state.

European experts have warned: “the increase observed in the growth rate of these sublineages is probably due mainly to immune escape.”

According to scientist Cornelius Römer, from the University of Basel, speaking in early October, BQ.1.1 “will drive a wave of variants in Europe and North America before the end of November”, and states that there is evidence that this new variant may be up to 10% more contagious.

Why is the new Omicron variant called the ‘Hound of Hell’

The name for this new variant of Omicron comes from Germany. Both BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been christened the ‘Hound of Hell’ or ‘Cerberus’, referring to the dog of the god Hades in Greek mythology. According to the myths, Cerberus is a three-headed monster that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. The beast was usually described as having a serpent for a tail, and snakes protruding from various parts of its body.

Hercules and Cerberus by Peter Paul Rubens
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Hercules and Cerberus by Peter Paul Rubens

According to reports in Germany, the name for the new variant appears to have first appeared on Twitter. It is not official, but appears to have been used to make it easier to remember the variant type, given the difficulty in remembering the official name. Various other variants have been given non-official names, including ‘Centaurus’ for BA.2.75.

Despite the sinister name, there is no initial indication that BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 causes more severe symptoms. “Hound of hell is certainly not a suitable name,” said Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology speaking to agency DPA.