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New FLiRT COVID Variants Take Over U.S.

Posted by Triple Naturals I On May 09, 2024
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With the COVID-19 virus continuing to evolve, a new variant dubbed KP.2 has rapidly become the leading cause of COVID infection in the country, making up about 25 percent of new cases.

Latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the KP.2 strain has surged from just 4 percent of cases a month ago. It has jumped past the formerly dominant JN.1 variant, which now makes up just 22 percent of new cases.

KP.2 is a member of a group of variants called FliRT (which is short for the technical names of their mutations). Recent CDC reporting shows that another FliRT variant, KP.1.1, has also been gaining steam and currently accounts for 7.5 percent of infections. 

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A Small Wave of Infection May Be Ahead

A preprint study in Japan published on BioRxiv indicated that KP.2 (which is a descendant of the omicron JN.1 strain) has an advantage over JN.1 because of three changes in its spike protein, which allow the virus to bind to cells and cause infection.

The Japanese researchers concluded that because of its higher viral fitness, KP.2 will potentially become the predominant lineage worldwide. 

As we head into summer, Eric Topol, MD, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, predicted on his Substack blog that we could see “a wavelet but not a significant new wave of infections as a result of the FLiRT variants in the next couple of months.”

Many Are Protected Against Serious Illness

While KP.2 may lead to a rise in new COVID cases, most people should have protection against severe illness and hospitalization because of antibodies from previous infection or vaccination, according to Edward Jones-Lopez, MD, an infectious disease specialist with Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.

“As long as the current strain is not so different from the previous strain, we have immunity against serious symptoms due to a combination of both vaccines and natural infections,” says Dr. Jones-Lopez.

“As with other variants, those at most risk of severe disease with the current variants remain those who are immunosuppressed — for instance, those on chemotherapy, those with bone marrow and solid organ transplants, and those over 65 years of age and/or those with comorbid conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart failure, COPD/chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, and chronic liver disease,” says Dana Hawkinson, MD, the medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City.


Symptoms of KP.2 and the FLiRT Variants

For most people who get infected with KP.2 or another FLiRT variant, Dr. Hawkinson expects symptoms to be the same as with other recent variants like JN.1. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset (such as mild diarrhea and vomiting)

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If you have mild symptoms, stay at home to avoid spread, and if you have severe symptoms, contact your medical provider. 

Hawkinson recommends testing to confirm infection status and taking the antiviral medication Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) if you are among those at risk for severe disease. 

Remain Cautious, but Don’t Panic

Based on what we know so far about KP.2, Jones-Lopez urges the public to keep calm and proceed with caution. 

“Do not freak out unnecessarily,” he says, even though he expects the virus to keep mutating and warns that a more severe strain could still be coming. Jones-Lopez also stresses the importance of staying informed and keeping up-to-date with vaccinations. Because older adults are more susceptible to serious illness, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently recommended that people ages 65 and older should get an additional updated COVID-19 vaccine this spring.

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