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WHO Reveals FLiRT Variants as Predominant SARS-CoV-2 Strains in 2024

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WHO Reveals FLiRT Variants as Predominant SARS-CoV-2 Strains in 2024

(CTN News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the “FLiRT” versions of the fatal SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 illnesses, are the most common virus strains this year worldwide.

According to Gulf News, the moniker “FLiRT” refers to the shared mutations on the virus’s spike protein among the variations.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KP.2, one of the FLiRT variants, has become the most regularly circulating variant in the United States in the last month.

Johns Hopkins University says that the FLiRT variations, which include KP.2’s “parental” lineage JN.1, have three important changes on their spike protein that may help them avoid being caught by antibodies.

Are the FLiRT variations more contagious?

Dr. Aaron Glatt, a representative for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, stated that based on the data he collects and experiences with his own patients, he has seen no evidence of an increase in disease or hospitalizations.

“There have been some significant changes in the variants, but I think in recent times it’s not been as important, probably because of the immunity many, many people already have” due to vaccinations and previous illnesses.

According to CDC data, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have been declining in recent weeks.

Furthermore, the number of patients in emergency rooms who tested positive for COVID-19 has been rather stable over the last month.

Continue to evolve before winter, when infections and hospitalizations often peak, and whether the FLiRT strains will be included in a fall COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Roberts answers three questions about the FLiRT variations.

1. Where did the FLiRT strains originate?

Nobody knows where the FLiRT variations first appeared. The CDC initially discovered them in wastewater in the United States, where it screens sewage for signs of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in a community, even if patients do not have symptoms. (The data can be utilized to provide an early warning if infection levels in a community are increasing or decreasing.). FLiRT strains have since been discovered in several other nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

To better appreciate how the FLiRT strains developed, consider how the SARS-CoV-2 virus has evolved, with new varieties developing when mutations occur in its genetic coding. Omicron was a SARS-CoV-2 variant that became prevalent in the United States in 2021 and began to produce its subvariants. One of these was JN.1, which was discovered in September 2023 and spread across the country during the winter months, increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations. JN.1 has offspring, including the FLiRT subvariants, which are spinoffs of JN.1.11.1.

2. What do we know—and don’t know—about the FLiRT variants?

We know that the FLiRT variations had two changes in their spike proteins (the spike-shaped protrusions on the virus’s surface) that were not present in JN.1 (the previously prevalent strain in the United States). Some specialists believe that these alterations may allow the virus to avoid people’s protection, whether from the vaccination or a previous bout with COVID.

However, Dr. Roberts believes that the FLiRT variations’ genetic similarity to JN.1 should be reassuring. “While JN.1 occurred during the winter months, when people gather indoors and the virus is more likely to spread, its symptoms were milder than those caused by variants in the early years of the pandemic,” according to him.

There is no word yet on whether a COVID sickness will be more severe with the FLiRT variations or how symptoms may vary. Because everyone is different, a person’s symptoms and severity of COVID disease are largely determined by their immunity and overall health rather than the variant with which they are infected, according to the CDC.

3. How can people defend themselves from FLiRT strains?

Dr. Roberts emphasizes the importance of vaccination as a critical tactic against COVID-19. He recommends that all eligible individuals stay up to date on their immunizations. While immunization does not guarantee immunity, it does dramatically reduce a person’s risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.

“We know that the updated monovalent vaccine, which was designed for the XBB.1.5 variant, worked against JN.1, and I strongly suspect it will have some degree of activity against the FLiRT mutations as well,” adds Dr. Roberts.

“I would especially recommend anyone who qualifies for the vaccine because of advanced age get it if they haven’t already,” says Dr. Roberts. “The reason is that the biggest risk factor for a bad outcome from COVID is advanced age.” In the fall of 2023, eligible individuals over 65 can receive the first shot of the revised vaccine and then another shot four months later.

He also believes COVID testing will be able to detect FLiRT strains, and antiviral medications will continue to be effective against them. Paxlovid, the primary treatment for most COVID patients, targets a “nonspiked part of the virus,” he explains. “It’s relatively variant-proof, so it should act against many future COVID iterations.”

Additional preventive measures can assist. To prevent COVID-19, avoiding direct contact with sick people, wearing a mask, washing your hands thoroughly, enhancing ventilation, and monitoring transmission levels in your area is important. Additional options are available on the CDC website.

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Arsi Mughal is a staff writer at CTN News, delivering insightful and engaging content on a wide range of topics. With a knack for clear and concise writing, he crafts articles that resonate with readers. Arsi's pieces are well-researched, informative, and presented in a straightforward manner, making complex subjects accessible to a broad audience. His writing style strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and casual approachability, ensuring an enjoyable reading experience.

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