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What is known about Pirola, new BA.2.86 coronavirus variant hitting Britain?

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Coronavirus is re-emerging in parts of Europe and the US with new variants. One such strain of COVID-19 is causing concerns among UK scientists due to its high number of mutations in the four cases confirmed in the country. The variant, named 'Pirola', was already detected in a number of countries before arriving in the UK. Experts are worried that it could have the ability to evade immunity from vaccinations or previous infections.

The National Health Service (NHS) warned the people of Britain to be on high alert after the first case of the Pirola variant was confirmed on Thursday. 

What is known about the new variant, Pirola, so far?

Pirola is the nickname of the BA.2.86 variant of Omicron, a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Pirola has additional high mutations as compared to previously detected Omicron subvariants, as per the Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialists. 

Pirola was first detected in Denmark on July 24 this year after the virus, which infected a patient at risk of becoming severely ill, was sequenced. It then appeared in the US and Canada in August. 

It has since been detected in other symptomatic patients in routine airport screenings, and in wastewater samples in a handful of countries. 

Though scientists believe that Pirola is unlikely to cause a devastating wave of severe disease and death, it still remains a variant of concern due to high mutations in the strain. 

Symptoms of the Pirola variant

According to the NHS website, the following are the symptoms of the Pirola variant:

- a high temperature or shivering (chills)

- a new, continuous cough - this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours

- a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

- shortness of breath

- feeling tired or exhausted

- an aching body

Watch | UK: Covid hospitalisations among elderly rise

- a headache

- a sore throat

- a blocked or runny nose

- loss of appetite

- diarrhoea

- feeling sick or being sick

If you test positive for Covid, current NHS advice is to try and stay at home for five days and avoid contact with other people. You should call NHS 111 if your symptoms or those of a child are getting worse rather than better. In the event of an emergency, such as severe breathlessness, coughing up blood or collapsing, you should dial 999 or go to A&E.

Are vaccines and boosters effective against Pirola variant?

Scientists say it is too early to say whether the vaccines or boosters will work against the Pirola variant or not. According to the CDC, they are evaluating the effectiveness of the forthcoming updated COVID-19 booster against BA.2.86. 

Though the CDC says that the updated vaccine is expected to be effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalisation, it has recommended keeping up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots as a yearly measure.

The elderly and immunocompromised are especially encouraged to get the shot to lessen their chances of developing severe symptoms.

(With inputs from agencies)

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