Is Covid FLiRT Variant A Cause Of Concern? This Is What Experts Say - Vibes Of India

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Is Covid FLiRT Variant A Cause Of Concern? This Is What Experts Say

| Updated: May 15, 2024 11:44

The new coronavirus variant called KP.2 — nicknamed FLiRT — linked to rising cases of Covid-19 in the US, UK and South Korea, is not a cause of immediate worry as it has been in circulation in India since November 2023, genomic surveillance data show.

About 250 KP.2 sequences have been reported so far by INSACOG, the country’s genome sequencing consortium, the highest 128 of them from Maharshtra alone. The highest number of KP.2 sequences were found in March.

KP.2 is a descendant of the JN.1 variant of the virus, i.e. a sub-variant of the Omicron lineage with new mutations. FLiRT, the nickname of KP.2, is based on the letters representing two immune escape mutations that allow the virus to evade antibodies.

Genomic scientists say these two mutations on the spike protein disrupt the major sites on the spike protein where antibodies bind and neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These mutations allow the virus to escape antibodies.

India has been reporting the highest proportion of KP.2 sequences in the world, global data show. KP.2 sequences made up 29% of Covid-19 sequences uploaded by India to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), the world’s largest repository of these sequences, over the last 60 days.

However, JN.1 continues to be the dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country. There were 679 active cases of Covid-19 in India on May 14, according to Union Health Ministry data, and one death — in Delhi — was attributed to the disease.

FLiRT is characterised by its ability to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections. Its symptoms are similar to those of earlier variants, including fever, cough, fatigue, and digestive issues.

Experts are watching the variant closely, but they are not very concerned at the moment.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that there are currently no indicators suggesting that KP.2 would cause more severe illness than other strains.

Yes, FLiRT has a heightened transmission rate and, like its parent JN.1, it is likely to drive a wave of infections. Also, the infections are likely to spread silently — because without severe symptoms, most people are unlikely to get themselves tested.

Doctors say, there is need to take stringent precautions, especially for those with a compromised immune system.

Senior citizens are vulnerable to severe illness due to factors such as age-related physiological changes, decreased immune function, and the presence of comorbidities. Research indicates that adults aged 60 and older, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or cancer, are more likely to experience severe and potentially fatal Covid-19 infections compared to other age groups.

Doctors say those affected report fever or chills, cough, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, headache, muscle aches, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, brain fog, feeling less wakeful and aware, and gastro-intestinal symptoms including upset stomach, mild diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Preventive measures are the same as the ones that have been advised since the beginning of the Covid outbreak four years ago. Social distancing and the use of well-fitting respirators like N95s or KN95s in indoor public settings protect against all variants of the Covid-19 virus.

Increased air flow and filtration in indoor spaces also help reduce the concentration of virus particles.

Most Covid-19 vaccines available in India are aimed at the original variant of the virus, so additional shots are unlikely to help.

In late April, the WHO’s Covid vaccine advisory group advised the use of JN.1 lineage as the antigen for upcoming vaccine formulations, as the FLiRT variants are within the JN.1 family. However the Indian vaccines are not updated with the JN.1 variant, and therefore booster doses in India are unlikely to be effective.

Doctors say most Indians do not need a booster because they have probably already had repeated infections, including silent infections with JN.1.

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