New Covid variant identified in Northern Ireland – key symptoms to spot

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The new coronavirus variant has been detected in Northern Ireland, according to health officials.

Dubbed Pirola, the Omicron subvariant, BA.2.86, was first identified in the UK in August in a person with no recent travel history, suggesting a degree of spread within the community.

Since then, the Omicron spin-off has triggered 54 confirmed cases in the UK, of which 48 are in England and six in Scotland.

Now, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said there are a small number of cases in Northern Ireland.

Health experts shared the variant doesn’t seem more likely to make people seriously ill compared to other variants in circulation, but Pirola carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein.

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In-depth sequencing has revealed it carries 30 additional mutations in its spike protein compared to prior dominant strains.

Dr Chris Papadopoulos, Principal Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire previously told this could raise the possibility that the variant could evade the immune system more easily or be more transmissible.

In its latest Covid epidemiological bulletin, the PHA shared the number of new Covid cases detected through clinical and routine testing was 448 in the week ending on October 1.

This represents a slight increase when compared to 441 in the previous week.

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It added: “There has now been a small number of confirmed cases of BA.2.86 identified in NI.

“There is no evidence at this time that this variant causes more severe disease or spreads more easily compared to other currently circulating variants.”

Furthermore, the bulletin also reported an increase in the number of new outbreaks in care homes, with 11 new outbreaks reported in the current week.

Pirola has previously caused a localised outbreak in a Norfolk care home at the beginning of September.

The autumn Covid and flu vaccination programme in Northern Ireland has also been brought forward as a precaution against Pirola.

The country’s chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride has previously urged people to come forward for their jabs to reduce pressure on Northern Ireland’s hospitals this winter.

Sir Michael explained that while the threat from Covid has reduced, it is still capable of causing serious illness and death.

The following groups are currently being offered their Covid top-ups in the area:

· All residents and staff in care homes;

· All adults aged 65 years and over on 31 March 2024;

· Persons aged six months to 64 years in a clinical risk group;

· Frontline health and social care workers;

· Persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression; and

· Persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers.

What are the symptoms of Pirola?

While this strain carries a high number of mutations, it remains to be determined whether they result in unique or more severe symptoms.

In a previous interview with , Dr Papadopoulos recommended looking out for these top Covid signs:

· Sore throat

· Runny or blocked nose

· Cough (with or without phlegm)

· Headache.

The expert added: “There’s a possibility that symptoms could be particularly intense due to the high number of mutations in the spike protein.

“However, it’s too early for definitive conclusions; more data and analyses are still required.”

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