A new ‘Pirola’ Covid case has been detected in the UK after traces of the variant were detected in wastewater.
The new strain of coronavirus – also known as Covid BA.2.86 – was first placed on watchlists by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) last month, with the first UK case being detected in London.
The latest case was detected in England, the latest UKHSA data shows on August 31, bringing the UK total to three.
The variant has been detected in eight countries so far, with ten cases in Denmark, four in Sweden, four in the US, two in Portugal, two in South Africa and one each in Canada and Israel.
Maria Van Kerkhove, epidemiologist and head of the Covid response at WHO, said very limited information was available on the newly discovered strain. However, symptoms include a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat.
The UKHSA said the UK cases did not appear to have contracted the virus abroad. Each infection was identified through hospital testing and the patients had “no known recent travel history based on routinely collected data”.
It said the first British case reported “mild malaise”, while the second case presented no respiratory symptoms. The third, located in Scotland, was described as “symptomatic”.
The agency added that the variant has also been detected in the sewage of several countries, meaning it is shed by those who carry the virus, but did not specify the locations.
The strain, also called BA.X, was discovered through genetic sequencing – a process by which scientists determine the building blocks of a molecule’s DNA.
This comes after a British scientist warned that the UK had “slacked off” and was “pretty blind to what’s going on with Covid”, and expressed concerns about the return of children to schools and adults to offices had expressed during the summer holidays.
Professor Lawrence Young of the University of Warwick said there was “a common misguided view that there is no longer any reason to worry about Covid”.
“One way to control infection is to at least have an idea of where certain outbreaks are occurring and possibly be able to take precautionary measures to prevent the virus from spreading further – but you need to know where it is,” added Professor Young.
“That is new [variant] is happening everywhere now, but we don’t see it in the population.”
Surveillance of the virus by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ended in March, but the Zoe Health Study estimates infections have increased by nearly 200,000 cases in the last month, rising to around 785,000 on July 27.
The number of hospital admissions related to Covid is currently the highest it has been in three months.