New Pirola Covid Strain Emerges: What You Need to Know

A new Covid variant, Pirola, has raised concerns among scientists with its numerous mutations. Four cases have been confirmed in the UK, prompting questions about its symptoms and vaccine effectiveness. Here’s the latest information on the Pirola strain.


A recently identified Covid variant, known as Pirola or BA.2.86, has emerged with a high number of mutations, sparking alarm within the scientific community. This strain has been detected in several countries and has now reached the United Kingdom, raising questions about its potential impact on vaccine effectiveness and public health.

What is Pirola?

Pirola, scientifically referred to as BA.2.86, has been named after an asteroid near Jupiter. It is a subvariant of the Omicron strain, originating from the BA.2 variant, which caused a surge in cases at the beginning of 2022. Pirola is distinguished by its spike protein, which has accumulated over 30 mutations. This spike protein is critical for the virus’s ability to enter human cells, making it a potential challenge for existing treatments, vaccines, and natural immunity.

Global Spread

Pirola was initially identified in Denmark on July 24, and it has since been confirmed in multiple countries, including South Africa, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, and the United States. In the UK, a confirmed case without recent travel history suggests local transmission, although its contagiousness compared to previous variants remains uncertain.

Expert Insights

Francois Balloux, a professor of computational systems biology and director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, described BA.2.86 as “the most striking SARS-CoV-2 strain the world has witnessed since the emergence of Omicron.” All 30-plus mutations in this variant are concentrated in the spike protein, which is the target of neutralizing antibodies.

Understanding the Variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes the need for additional data to comprehend this new Covid-19 variant fully. The extent of its spread and potential consequences requires further investigation.

Symptoms of the Pirola Variant

At present, it is unclear whether Pirola causes distinct symptoms compared to other Covid variants. Common symptoms of Covid, according to the NHS website, include:

  • High temperature or shivering (chills)
  • A new, continuous cough
  • Loss or change in sense of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you test positive for Covid, NHS advises self-isolation for five days and avoiding contact with others. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or in emergencies.

It remains uncertain whether Pirola causes more severe illness than other Covid strains.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Current information does not definitively confirm whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against Pirola. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US reports that existing tests and treatments appear effective against this new variant.

Jesse Bloom, a computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, noted that while neutralizing antibodies offer the best protection against infection, other mechanisms of immunity from vaccination and previous infection may still provide some defense against severe disease.

In the UK, the Covid and flu vaccination program has been moved forward by a month, starting on September 11. Eligibility for booster jabs includes:

  • Residents in care homes for older adults
  • All adults aged 65 and over
  • Individuals aged 6 months to 64 years in clinical risk groups
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • Persons aged 12 to 64 who are household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
  • Persons aged 16 to 64 who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults

Currently, there are no plans to extend the booster program to younger age groups, and the vaccine is not available privately.

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