What is Centaurus, the new subvariant of Omicron being investigated by the WHO?
First detected in India and also known as BA.2.75, the variant spreads five times faster and could be in as many as ten countries already.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely following the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and, in particular, the latest sublineages of the Omicron variant. The most recently identified are known as BA.4 and BA.5, which have triggered infections in several countries.
However in India scientists have detected a new subvariant of Omicron that is thought to be transmitted up to five times more easily than the original variant. This comes after Indian health authorities registered an increase in coronavirus infections from 15,000 to 19,000 in the last ten days.
It is thought that the increase could be caused by a variant known as BA.2.75, nicknamed ‘Centaurus’. It was on June 30 that the first cases caused by this sublineage were reported in India.
The chief scientist of the World Health Organization, Soumya Swaminathan, spoke about its characteristics:
“It has mutations in the protein that allows access to the body’s healthy cells, which raises fears that it may be more contagious and able to evade previous immunity more easily.”
Despite this, he said that it is still too early to know if it is a more severe variant than others or if it has an “additional immune invasion”.
Officials in India have verified that this variant, which spreads five times faster than other lineages, already represents 20% of new infections and would have a growth advantage of 18% compared to to other subvariants of covid-19. Despite this, at the moment there is no evidence to show that it causes more serious symptoms in infected people. However it can infect patients who have overcome the disease or who are vaccinated against covid.
For his part, the Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of the Basque Country, Gorka Orive, has stated that this subvariant “presents up to 8 additional mutations with respect to BA.5″, a fact that he considers as “an impact that should be studied both in terms of its infectivity and immune evasion”.
New cases detected in ten more countries
India is not the only country in which this variant has been identified. The WHO has confirmed that this variant has already been detected in ten other countries, including Germany, Australia, Canada, the United States, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, has said that although none of the mutations detected in this new variant are particularly worrying, the combination could cause problems.
“None of these individually really mark as concerning, but showing up all together at once is another matter,” he said on his Twitter account.