Here’s The ‘Centaurus’ Covid-19 Coronavirus

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While it ain’t the “Centaurus” of Covid-19 attention right now, the new BA.2.75 Omicron subvariant does deserve to be closely monitored. This so-called “Centaurus” subvariant, first detected in India, has now appeared in at least 10 other countries including the U.S. And there are eight-not-so-simple reasons why the BA.2.75 couldPotentiallyEven more alarming than the already worrying BA.5 subvariant to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2), is the fact that it could be even more serious. Before you run around the room flapping your arms in a panic, though, the emphasis here is on the word “potentially” as opposed to “definitely” or “fer sure.” Plus, public health authorities will never say, “OK, everyone, time to panic now.”

Speaking of public health authorities, guess who’s now monitoring the BA.2.75? The World Health Organization, that’s who. Take a look at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants website, you’ll now find the BA.2.75 categorized as a VOC-LUM. What does VOC stand for? It stands for Variants Of Concern (VOC-LUM), which is basically an acronym that denotes offshoots from variants that have been declared VOCs. The list of VOC-LUM’s currently includes several sub-lineages of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant (that is, the BA.2.12.1, BA.2.9.1, BA.2.11, BA.2.13, and BA.2.75) along with two sister lineages of the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants (consisting of the BA.4 and BA.5).

Already, the BA.4 and BA.5 have been shown to be twisted sister linesages. During a media briefing on July 6,, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, mentioned that, “On Covid-19, globally reported cases have increased nearly 30% over the past two weeks. Four out of six of the WHO sub-regions saw cases increase in the last week.” Clearly, this goes against the Covid is over narrative that some have been trying to unjustifiably spread. The WHO Director-General then specified that “In Europe and America, BA.4 and BA.5 are driving waves,” before mentioning the Centaurus: “In countries like India a new sub lineage of BA.2.75 has also been detected, which we’re following.”

The BA.4 and BA.5 have been essentially making waves in part because they’ve proven more transmissible than previous versions of the virus. Their Covid-19 surge production may also be due to immune escape. Although it sounds like an amusement park ride, immune escape is what happens when a virus accumulates enough mutations to make it look different enough that it can no longer be protected by any existing immune protection. This would be akin to your high school classmate getting so much plastic surgery or such an extreme makeover that you end up asking him or her during a reunion, “hi, have we met before?” Essentially, mutations may have made the BA.5 so different from the original SARS-CoV-2 and other earlier versions like the Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants that immune protection you may already have from either vaccination or previous infection may not be able to adequately recognize and protect against the BA.5.

These increased transmissibility and immune escape possibilities are the reasons for this. Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, to call the BA.5 “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.” As I wrote Forbes SundaySuch a description is kind of like calling Transformers: The Last KnightThe worst of the Transformers movies. When something is the worst of the bad, it certainly isn’t good news.

Ah, but, if BA.5 already looks very different from earlier versions of the virus like the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants, the “Centaurus” subvariant takes the whole makeover thing eight steps further. It’s not clear who came up with the nickname “Centaurus,” which presumably is an extension of the word “centaur.” A centaur is a creature that’s half human and half horse. It’s a mythical creature in case you are wondering whether this description matches that of your boss. Nevertheless, such a moniker could potentially apply to something that looks quite different from anything that you’ve seen before. Topol sent the following tweet, which showed how much the BA.2.75 looked different to the BA.5

Topol added a tweet thread. Ulrich Elling, PhD, a researcher at Vienna’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology. This tweet thread illustrated which parts of the BA.2.75 virus’s spike protein are affected by these mutations. Notably, the affected areas include the receptor binding portion. This is the area that first docks your cells with the spike protein. It is similar to how your hands grab the handle of a refrigerator before you attempt to get in. In his tweet thread, Elling stated that “The number of 8 additional mutations in BA.2.75 is remarkable, Delta had 8 in spike in total. Three mutations can make a big difference (BA.5). Thus the 11 Mutations distinct between BA.5 and BA.2.75 could allow for yet another wave as BA.5 immunity might not protect,” as you can see here:

As seen above, Elling described his thread as “HIGHLY SPECULTIVE” in ALL CAPS. This thread would also be highly speculative, as more data and information are required before anyone can draw any definitive conclusions about the threat that BA.2.75 might pose. Just because the BA.2.75 is different doesn’t mean that it will become a major problem. To be able to outcompete other viruses, the BA.2.75 must be physically fitter than the BA.5 or other variants. In this case, being more fit doesn’t mean able to do more push-ups on its little spikes. It is the ability to spread and survive faster than other circulating versions.

Are the BA.2.75’s transmission rates higher than those of other subvariants and variants? Carly Rae Jepsen calls it “maybe”. Some have suggested that this may be true. Mike Honey, founder Manga Solutions, an Australian data visualization company, posted this graph. This shows how detections of BA.2.75 have increased in India, where it was first detected.

Before you say, “oh, Honey” about this rise, take such information with a fanny pack of salt for now until more data and studies emerge to more accurately determine the BA.2.75’s transmissibility. Yes, the BA.2.75 was already in use in at least 10 other countries, including Australia and Canada, Germany, New Zealand as well as the U.K. The BA.5. will not be able to spread its wings without it. And that’s not going to be easy. The current dominant, alpha dog version of the virus, the BA.5, is found in many countries, including the United States, where it currently accounts for 53.6% of all reported Covid-19 cases. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC),.

It’s also not yet clear whether the BA.2.75 may cause worse Covid-19, as Soumya Swaminathan, MD, Chief Scientist for the WHO, emphasized in the video accompanying the following tweet:

We still have a lot to discover about BA.2.75, Yoda might suggest. So don’t jump to conclusions yet about what this subvariant may end up doing. The BA.2.75 could be a reality TV star, making news briefly before disappearing into insignificance. The other end of this spectrum, the negative end, could see this variant become the new alpha-dog among variants and drive additional surges. There are also a lot of scenarios that can fall somewhere in between these extremes. Predicting the fate of a subvariant early and what competing subvariants might emerge is like trying to predict which fashion trends will be popular. Who could have predicted that knitted crop tops and sagging pants would be in fashion before they were?

Regardless, the emergence of the BA.2.75 Shouldn’t change what you should already be doing, with an emphasis on the word “should.” It’s another reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is definitely not over and that Covid-19 precautions are still needed, despite what some people, politicians, your Uncle Fred, that person at the smoothie bar, or those anonymous social media accounts may try to tell you. While the new BA.2.75 may or may not become the “Centaurus” of Covid-19 attention in the coming weeks or months, the key is to stop the horse (or half horse) before it has left the barn and prevent Covid-19 surges before they occur.

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