LSU Health’s New Orleans lab says it has discovered two new Omicron subvariants
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Researchers from LSU Health New Orleans’ Precision Medicine Lab said Tuesday (July 5) that they have identified two previously unknown subvariants of the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant.
“To our knowledge, these Omicron subvariants have not been reported in the United States until now,” said Dr. Lucio Miele, the lab’s co-director and Head of Genetics at LSU Health New Orleans’ School of Medicine. “Their possible clinical and public health significance is still unknown.”
The Lab said it had identified two new SARS-CoV-2 variants in Louisiana, subvariants of the Omicron variant that has driven the state’s latest surge of coronavirus cases. The new subvariants were designated BE.1 and BF.1. The LSU Lab partners with the Louisiana Department of Health, Ochsner Health and the Louisiana infectious disease bioinformatics company BIE to collect samples from COVID-19 tests and examine their genetic sequencing to determine what versions of the disease are circulating in the state.
“The pattern that is emerging from the data is one whereby, once a dominant variant emerges such as Delta and Omicron, the genetic diversity of the virus temporarily drops as the new variant takes over,” Miele said. “After that, multiple subvariants emerge from mutations of the dominant variant.
“This is the most important time to monitor the emergence of new subvariants, especially if their numbers start increasing, and determine what’s different about them. This kind of information is critical to understanding transmission or resistance to therapeutics.”
Miele said the known variants of SARS-CoV-2 increasingly have become better able to spread and to evade immunity. Omicron is more transmissible than Delta was, and Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 seem to have the ability to infect people who were immune to earlier variants and subvariants. Some also have shown resistance to monoclonal antibodies used to reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections.
“We will be monitoring these new subvariants and compare experiences with other centers to determine how these variants originated and whether they are spreading,” Miele said.
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