Health News

Is COVID Becoming More Predictable?

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

It’s been nearly a year since a new variant of COVID-19 has been named, leading some to wonder whether the virus is evolving in the same way as it once was.

NPR asked a dozen scientists whether the virus was stabilizing, and the answer was a resounding “no” — COVID-19 continues to evolve as rapidly as ever.

“SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to evolve extremely rapidly,” biology professor Trevor Bedford, PhD, told NPR. “There’s no evidence that the evolution is slowing down.”

So while the flurry of change in the virus continues, the naming has stalled because the properties that would trigger a newly named variant haven’t appeared yet.

New subvariants of Omicron, such as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, have recently been making news as they account for a greater proportion of new cases. But they haven’t been given new names because of their similarity to the original Omicron variant. Those similarities are the features of Omicron that help it spread and survive, even in people who have been vaccinated.

“We seem to be seeing for the first time evidence of widescale convergent evolution,” University of Chicago scientist Manon Ragonnet-Cronin, PhD, told NPR. “We have what people are calling a swarm of Omicron viruses, which have different ancestries within Omicron, but which have the same set of mutations.”

Naming is handled by a team of World Health Organization scientists, who evaluate current changes in COVID-19 and use a complex set of criteria to determine whether a name shall be assigned. The WHO also manages lists of “variants of concern” and “variants of interest,” as does the CDC in the United States. The CDC publishes its list of variants that are or have been monitored and when their statuses have changed.

While the convergence toward Omicron features means the virus’ current state is thriving, it also did raise hope among some scientists.

University of Bern epidemiologist Emma Hodcroft, PhD, told NPR: “The fact that we’ve perhaps stepped out of a phase [in the pandemic] where we’re getting completely new viruses from different parts of the tree sweeping in and dominating might be a sign that we’re moving towards a more kind of stable future for the virus.”

Sources

NPR: “Omicron keeps finding new evolutionary tricks to outsmart our immunity,” Oct. 25, 2022.

World Health Organization: “Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants.”

CDC: “SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions.”

Source: Read Full Article